Photo/Illutration Part of the notes left behind by Toshio Akagi before his suicide in March 2018 (Satoru Ogawa)

It is painful to imagine the despair and mortification that Toshio Akagi felt when he decided to kill himself after being forced to falsify public documents in the Moritomo Gakuen scandal. He was effectively compelled into committing an unethical act, which certainly destroyed his self-respect as a Finance Ministry official.

The damages lawsuit filed on March 18 by his widow should lead to fresh efforts to shed light on the still dark and obscure parts of the picture.

Akagi was an official of the Kinki Local Finance Bureau, which was directly involved in the negotiations for the dubious sale of state-owned land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, to Moritomo Gakuen, a private school operator linked to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, Akie.

Akagi was forced to help falsify official documents concerning the shady land deal and was 54 when he committed suicide in March 2018, five days after the falsifications came to light.

His widow filed the lawsuit with the Osaka District Court seeking 112 million yen ($1 million) in compensation for her husband’s suicide from the government and Nobuhisa Sagawa, who was director-general of the ministry’s Financial Bureau, which oversaw the sale of state assets.

Lawyers for the plaintiff on March 18 released notes and the will left behind by Akagi, which describe in detail the process of how the documents were falsified under the ministry’s initiative and cite the real names of people involved.

Akagi also expressed his anger at how elite Finance Ministry bureaucrats irresponsibly tried to pin the entire blame for the scandal on the Kinki Local Finance Bureau, even though Sagawa gave the orders for the falsifications and bureau officials resisted his instructions.

Asked about the lawsuit in a March 19 news conference, Finance Minister Taro Aso said the ministry would not conduct another investigation into the matter, claiming that there is “no large discrepancy” between the results of its investigation into the falsifications released in June 2018 and the content of Akagi’s notes.

The ministry’s investigation report stated that Sagawa set the overall direction for the falsifications, but it failed to answer such key questions as whether he gave any specific orders or instructions and whether he acted on his own.

The credibility of the ministry’s internal probe is in doubt because no independent outsider was involved. The ministry did not even interview anyone at the prime minister’s office or Akie Abe, who was named honorary principal of a school that Moritomo Gakuen planned to operate on the site in Toyonaka.

More importantly, the investigation did nothing to answer the question at the heart of the scandal--why the state-owned land was sold to the private school operator at a steep discount.

It is extremely insincere of the government to brush off calls for a fresh inquiry by citing a report that did not come close to getting to the bottom of the scandal. Sagawa should be required to tell the truth in the courtroom and fulfill his accountability to the Diet as well.

Public documents, part of the nation’s common property, were doctored, and discussions on the matter at the Diet, which represents the Japanese people, were made irrelevant because of the falsifications.

The Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office decided not to indict anyone after its own investigation into the allegations.

But the fact remains that the Diet’s ability to check the behavior of the administrative branch was seriously undermined. The Diet needs to tackle the challenge of uncovering the entire truth with greater vigor and intensity.

The falsifications started immediately after Abe said in the Diet that he would resign as both prime minister and from the Diet if he or his wife were found involved in any way in the scandal.

We cannot help wondering how Abe is feeling about the notes left by Akagi.

On March 19, Abe told reporters at the Diet that his heart aches, but he claimed that all the facts concerning the matter have been disclosed through the investigation conducted under Aso’s leadership. Abe apparently wants to make the scandal a thing of the past.

In a published statement, Akagi’s widow said she wants to know the truth about who masterminded the falsifications, which caused her husband to end his life, and for whom and how the sale of the land, which was the reason for the act, was actually conducted.

Abe cannot hope to regain public trust without making serious efforts to respond to her desperate questions.

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 20