Photo/IllutrationNobuhisa Sagawa, former director-general of the Finance Ministry’s Financial Bureau, answers questions as a sworn witness in the Upper House Budget Committee on March 27. (Tetsuro Takehana)

Politicians and legal experts vowed to pursue the truth behind a real-estate scandal after prosecutors, according to one lawyer, were too afraid to tackle the “largest postwar crime committed by bureaucrats to protect the prime minister.”

Widespread criticism hit the Special Investigation Department of the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office after it decided on May 31 not to indict Finance Ministry officials who had sold state-owned land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen at a sharp discount or had doctored documents related to the sale.

The critics plan to take the case to the committee for the inquest of prosecution, which can issue mandatory indictments, and seek additional witness testimony in the Diet.

The department said it had insufficient evidence to charge the ministry officials over their alterations to official documents or prove that the sale of the land caused financial damage to the state.

Makoto Kimura, a city assembly member of Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, where the state-owned land was located, expressed bewilderment and anger over the department’s decision.

“The Finance Ministry has admitted to the falsification of official documents. There is sufficient evidence. I cannot understand the non-indictment,” Kimura said. “For what reason does the special investigation department exist?”

In March 2017, Kimura filed a criminal complaint with the department against officials of the ministry’s Kinki Local Finance Bureau in Osaka on suspicion of breach of trust, saying the bureau sold the state-owned land to Moritomo Gakuen at an unreasonably cheap price in 2016.

Opposition parties have said the discount was a political favor because the former director of Moritomo Gakuen had close ties to first lady Akie Abe.

In response to a request from prosecutors, Kimura submitted photos of the land where Moritomo Gakuen had been constructing a private elementary school. Akie had been named honorary principal of that school.

Kimura said he felt that prosecutors at that time were eager to pursue indictments.

But he said he will now ask the committee for the inquest of prosecution to look into the case.

Kimura also said it is necessary to again summon Nobuhisa Sagawa, who was director-general of the ministry’s Financial Bureau when the documents were falsified, to the Diet to testify as a sworn witness.

“The Diet should clarify the truth,” Kimura said. “The (Abe) administration bears responsibility to do so.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he would resign if he or his wife were involved in the shady land transaction with Moritomo Gakuen.

After the falsified ministry documents, including deleted references to the first lady, were confirmed, Sagawa was summoned to the Diet in March to explain what had happened. But he refused to reply to questions more than 40 times, saying he was a subject in the investigation by prosecutors.

Lawyer Tokuo Sakaguchi, who has also filed a criminal complaint against the ministry officials, said in a statement that he will seek mandatory indictments from the committee for the inquest of prosecution.

“(The falsifications and other acts) is the largest postwar crime committed by bureaucrats to protect Prime Minister Abe,” Sakaguchi said.

He also said the decision not to indict reflects the overwhelming power of Abe and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

“Even prosecutors were fearful of the Abe-led dominance, took his intentions into account and ‘acquitted’ him based on irrational reasons despite holding enough evidence to indict the officials,” Sakaguchi said.

Hiroshi Kamiwaki, professor of law at Kobe Gakuin University, is another person who plans to ask the committee for the inquest of prosecution to scrutinize the case.

“If the officials can escape indictments so easily, it will be heaven for politicians, and distrust in politics will strengthen,” he said.

Five opposition parties and one parliamentary group decided on May 31 to demand the ruling parties agree to summon Sagawa to the Diet again as a sworn witness.

“The possibility of prosecutors indicting him has become zero,” said Kiyomi Tsujimoto, chairwoman of the Diet Affairs Committee of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. “Therefore, he should respond to the questions he refused to answer on grounds that he could incriminate himself.”

Kazuo Shii, chairman of the Japanese Communist Party, also said in a news conference, “Sagawa should reveal everything about the truth (in the Diet).”