References to Japan PM Abe and wife removed - documents

Randolph Lopez
March 13, 2018

References to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his wife and Finance Minister Taro Aso were removed from documents related to a controversial land sale, according to the documents seen by Reuters.

Copies of documents seen by Reuters showed that references to Abe, his wife and Aso were removed from finance ministry records of the sale of state-owned land to a school operator with ties to Abe's wife.

"We will carry out the investigation to make the whole picture clear".

The controversy has caused the Diet to stall, but Sakakibara said he still wants lawmakers to deliberate on other key issues during the current ordinary session through June, including labor reforms aimed at addressing overworking and exempting certain skilled workers from working-hour regulations.

Abe said he would resign as prime minister and a member of Parliament if evidence emerged linking him to the land deal.

Abe's wife Akie was initially named honorary principal of an elementary school planned to be built at the site in Osaka but withdrew after the scandal came to light.

Japan's Nikkei share average rose to a 1.5 week high on Monday helped by tech shares, but early gains were trimmed as a suspected cronyism scandal dampened sentiment.

Opposition Democratic Party leader Yuichiro Tamaki said Mr Aso should resign and Parliament hold hearings on the matter. It said one document originally noted that the school operator was involved with a powerful pro-Abe political lobby, Nippon Kaigi, of which Abe was vice chairman, but that comment had later been deleted.

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The scandal first emerged early previous year, but resurfaced after the revelation that official documents related to the sale had been changed.

Opposition politicians have called for Mr Aso to resign.

The risk for Aso and Abe, experts said, is that the suspected cover-up does more damage than the land sale itself.

Aso's backing is vital to Abe's bid for a third term and a key factor in the stability of his administration.

"At the very least, it seems that Mr Aso's chances of surviving as Finance Minister are diminishing rapidly", Tobias Harris, vice president of consultancy Teneo Intelligence, wrote in an email. He said there was no "smoking gun" showing direct intervention by Abe or his wife.

Shinzo Abe acknowledged the new revelations "could undermine trust in the entire government" and added: "I deeply apologise to the people", said a report in The Guardian.

They also plan to demand the government release all related documents and that Nobuhisa Sagawa, who resigned last week as head of the National Tax Agency, be summoned to give testimony at the Diet. It was a rare comeback for the conservative lawmaker, who quit abruptly in 2007 after a year in office marked by scandals in his cabinet, a deadlocked parliament and ill health.

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