Ministry admits altering documents in Shinzo Abe scandal

Prosecutors have evidence of document tampering

Prosecutors have evidence of document tampering

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

The government's admission Monday that documents linked to a controversial land sale had been altered in a possible cover-up added fuel to a scandal that has long dogged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, threatening his once-unassailable standing in the ruling party.

Abe has denied that he or his wife did any favors for the school operator, Moritomo Gakuen, which promotes a nationalist education curriculum.

On Monday, in response, the minister flatly said, "I have no intention to do so".

The names of several lawmakers mentioned in the original documents - former trade minister Takeo Hiranuma, LDP veteran Yoshitada Konoike, former Upper House lawmaker Issei Kitagawa and the late Kunio Hatoyama, former internal affairs minister - were deleted.

The issue past year sharply eroded Mr Abe's popularity. It erupted again in recent weeks after a major newspaper reported that it found evidence the ministry had altered records after the scandal broke.

"It is inconceivable that the bureaucrats on the spot had such authority (to alter the documents)", media quoted Shigeru Ishiba, an LDP lawmaker who has made no secret of his desire to challenge Abe in the party race, as saying on the weekend.

His resignation followed the death of a finance ministry official involved in the land sale, who is believed to have committed suicide last week, although it's unclear if there's a direct link.

Sagawa was head of the Finance Ministry department that oversaw the land deal, before being promoted a year ago to tax agency chief.

Sagawa was head of the finance ministry department that oversaw the land deal, before being promoted past year to tax agency chief.

The Finance Ministry also confirmed on Friday the death of an official linked to the scandal. Sagawa also acknowledged destroying documents.

The news, however, casts a pall of doubt over Mr. Abe's ability to govern well at a crucial time for Japan both economically and politically.

Abe said he wanted Aso to make every effort to clarify all the facts and ensure such acts were not repeated. Yasunori Kagoike, then head of Moritomo Gakuen, purchased the land to build an elementary school where Abe's wife briefly served as honorary principal.

Shinzo Abe has supported a drive to change history textbooks to tone down depictions of Japan's abuses in Asia during its empire years, to much consternation in South Korea, China, and other countries that suffered at its hands. Media have said the changes were made after February previous year - when the suspected scandal broke - and that words describing the "special nature" of the deal were excised along with the names of several politicians.

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

Opposition lawmakers have also demanded that Akie Abe and Sagawa be called in to testify.

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