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Scandal implicating Japanese PM draws renewed attention, tax agency chief resigns

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A cut-price land deal scandal implicating Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe kept drawing public attention Friday as the opposition parties continued boycotting parliamentary session, while the government's tax agency chief stepped down to take responsibility.

Nobuhisa Sagawa, head of the official tax collecting agency of Japan, resigned on Friday to take responsibility for his flawed testimonies related to the land deal last year when he was director general of the Financial Bureau of the Finance Ministry.

Sagawa, defending the heavily-discounted land deal, reportedly told the parliament then that documents on negotiations between the ministry and the scandal-hit Moritomo Gakuen on the land deal had been discarded.

The ministry, however, has since released a number of internal documents on the land deal, and audio data believed to be recordings of such negotiations were also discovered.

Opposition lawmakers have accused Sagawa of making false testimonies and requested him to resign.

Meanwhile, major opposition parties in Japan continued boycotting parliamentary session on Friday on suspicions surrounding some Finance Ministry documents related to the land deal shown to the parliament last year.

The Asahi Shimbun, a well-read liberal newspaper in Japan, reported last week that some Finance Ministry documents related to the dubious deal appeared to have been revised before they were submitted to the Diet for scrutiny after the scandal emerged last year.

The report, citing a few anonymous sources, said that large portions had been deleted from the original documents, as well as phrases that describe the heavily-discounted land deal as "special" and "exceptional."

Upon repeated requests from opposition parties, the Finance Ministry submitted on Thursday copies of the original documents, which, however, turned out to be almost the same as the ones shown to the parliament last year.

The ministry also declined to clarify whether there were other documents existing beside those submitted.

The opposition lawmakers, accusing the ministry of trying to cover up the scandal by not showing the original documents, have been boycotting the subsequent parliament session, while the ruling bloc continued the upper house deliberations with most of the opposition lawmakers absent.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, a close ally of Abe, told a press briefing Friday night that the ministry is expected to present early next week an interim report on its internal probe surrounding the documents.

Also on Friday, the government admitted that a Finance Ministry official involved in the dubious land sale were found dead recently.

It was not clear yet whether the death, looked upon as suicide by local police, was related to the cut-price land deal.

Moritomo Gakuen, a private-school operator, reportedly bought a 8,770-square-meter piece of land in June 2016 in Toyonaka, Osaka prefecture, for 134 million yen (1.26 million U.S. dollars), equivalent to only 14 percent of its appraisal price.

The land had been intended for a new elementary school to be opened in April last year with the prime minister's wife Akie as its honorary principal, though she has since stepped down as the scandal widens.

The prime minister has since denied that he or his wife was involved in the shady deal, while Yasunori Kagoike, head of the school operator, gave sworn testimony in both chambers of parliament, stating that he believed the land deal involved "politicians' intervention."

The scandal has for one time drastically brought down the Abe administration's support ratings, and according to multiple media polls, the majority of those surveyed believed that the government had not given sufficient explanations on the scandal.



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