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Abe says he and wife 'not involved' in discount land scandal

Ruling coalition agrees to summon former tax chief to Diet for questioning

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Finance Minister Taro Aso attend an upper house budget committee on Wednesday. (Photo by Uichiro Kasai)

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday morning denied his and his wife's involvement in the scandal surrounding sale of public land to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen in Osaka, which was offered the land at a steep discount. 

"Neither my wife and I, nor my office, were involved [in the land sale]," said Abe at the upper house budget committee in response to a question by a member of the House of Councilors from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

He also denied involvement in altering documents linked to the controversial land deal. "I received reports on [March] 11 about the alteration. When you look at the documents before they were altered, it is clear my wife and I were not involved," Abe said.

According to the finance ministry, the name of Abe's wife, Akie, appeared in the original documents but was later deleted. In particular, deleted passages include remarks made during a 2014 meeting between representatives of the school and local officials, during which the school operator had described Akie visiting the site and saying "go ahead" with plans to build the school.

The revelations pose a growing threat to the prime minister's legislative agenda and hold on power. Abe said on Wednesday he is "deeply sorry" for the scandal, adding that he "feels responsible as the head of the administration."

"We will thoroughly investigate to clarify the entirety of the issue," he said. "I would like Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aso to fulfill this responsibility," he added, dispelling speculation among the opposition that Aso will resign.

Alteration of the documents led to the resignation of former National Tax Agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa, who was was director general of the Ministry of Finance's Financial Bureau that allegedly doctored the document, according to Aso.

An in-house probe by the ministry found that the names of four lawmakers were removed from the documents after Feb. 2017, when the issue first gained political and national attention. This suggests that the documents had been purposely altered to make them consistent with responses to Diet questions on the matter, as had been suspected.

Meanwhile, LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai and his counterpart Yoshihisa Inoue of junior coalition partner Komeito met at a hotel in Tokyo on Wednesday morning and agreed on summoning Sagawa to the Diet to testify.

The agreement was made on condition that the opposition parties, which have been boycotting the parliamentary deliberation, will return.

The two agreed that summoning Sagawa is required to resolve the scandal.

The meeting was also attended by the LDP's Diet affairs chief Hiroshi Moriyama and counterpart Yoshinori Oguchi of Komeito. Oguchi spoke to reporters and indicated that Abe's wife will not be summoned to the Diet, saying that she is "not related to the alteration of the documents."

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