THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
December 16, 2021 at 18:55 JST
Masako Akagi, the wife of a Finance Ministry employee who committed suicide after being forced to falsify official documents, blasted the government for abruptly ending her lawsuit on Dec. 15 in Osaka. (Yuto Yoneda)
The government agreed to pay full compensation to the widow of a Finance Ministry employee who killed himself in 2018, but she said she was disgusted by the abrupt move that ended her lawsuit.
“I started the lawsuit because I wanted to know more about why my husband died,” Masako Akagi said at a news conference in Osaka on Dec. 15. “The whole issue is not about the money. I was so disgusted by the way the lawsuit was terminated that I don’t know what I could say to my husband.”
Her husband, Toshio, committed suicide after he was ordered to falsify official documents related to a shady land deal. He was 54.
The Finance Ministry has long kept under wraps details surrounding the falsified documents.
But the widow and her lawyers were expecting more information to finally emerge through the court hearings.
However, the government, during a closed-door meeting at the Osaka District Court, said it would pay 107 million yen ($938,000) to Akagi, the compensation amount she sought in her lawsuit.
In a written statement submitted to the court on Dec. 15, the government acknowledged that Toshio Akagi, who worked at the ministry’s Kinki Local Finance Bureau in Osaka, developed a mental disorder after he was ordered to falsify ministry documents related to the sale of state-owned land to private school operator Moritomo Gakuen.
He was also swamped with information disclosure requests after the falsifications became known to the public, the statement said.
“It will not be appropriate to prolong the court proceedings” in light of the gravity of the fact that government’s official documents were falsified, the statement said.
The agreement to pay compensation represents a complete reversal of the government’s stance. It had asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit when it was filed in March 2020.
The state-owned land was sold to Moritomo Gakuen in 2016 for less than 20 percent of the appraised value, a discount of about 800 million yen.
Critics say the documents were falsified to shield Akie Abe, wife of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, from any connection to the land deal.
The Moritomo Gakuen founder had boasted of his relationship with the first lady, and she was named honorary principal of an elementary school that was scheduled to open on that land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture.
The government in June disclosed the so-called Akagi file in response to the widow’s demand in court, although it had spurned a similar request by opposition lawmakers in the Diet.
The file revealed emails sent by senior ministry officials instructing Toshio to falsify data on the land transaction. The file also showed that Toshio and other employees at the bureau, which oversaw the land deal, objected to the document tampering.
Akagi and her lawyers had planned to use the court battle to press the government to disclose more evidence and have senior ministry officials testify to gain a fuller picture of why the data was falsified.
Teruyuki Ogoshi, one of the lawyers representing Akagi, 50, called the government’s abrupt compensation decision “surprising, insincere and extremely contemptible.”
Makoto Kimura, a member of the Toyonaka city assembly, expressed outrage over the government’s move, saying the cover-up mentality of officials remains unchanged.
“The government chose to swiftly end the lawsuit by agreeing to pay the damages, rather than being compelled to disclose inconvenient evidence during court proceedings,” he said.
Kimura was one of the first individuals who raised suspicions about the murky transaction.
He sued the government in 2017 for not listing the value of the Moritomo Gakuen transaction in records it published over state-owned land.
The Kinki Local Finance Bureau handled 36 land deals between fiscal 2014 and 2016 and disclosed the value of all the transactions--except for the plot sold to Moritomo Gakuen.
The government again appears to be pushing its stance that the scandal is over.
Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki told reporters Dec. 15, “We reached the decision to pay the compensation because the government is accountable for the case.”
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said no further investigation into the data tampering issue is necessary, despite Akagi’s repeated requests.
With the curtain drawn on the lawsuit, the focus of attention will shift to Akagi’s legal action against Nobuhisa Sagawa, then chief of the ministry's Finance Bureau in charge of managing state assets.
In the same district court, Akagi is seeking 5.5 million yen from Sagawa, saying his order to falsify the documents drove her husband to commit suicide.
In a document submitted to the district court on Dec. 15, Sagawa argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed based on a Supreme Court ruling that the government is responsible for paying compensation over damages caused by a civil servant in the line of duty.
(This story was compiled from reports by Yuto Yoneda, Kazuhide Setoguchi and Yusuke Morishita.)
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