Japan ministry admits altering documents in scandal dogging Abe

Prosecutors have evidence of document tampering

Prosecutors have evidence of document tampering

The doctored documents related to the 2016 sale of state land to a school operator in Osaka at one-seventh of its appraised price with the alleged involvement of first lady Akie Abe, who supported the school's ultra-nationalistic education policy.

Aso said the documents were altered to make them conform with Sagawa's testimony in parliament.

The name of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife was removed from documents regarding a suspected cronyism scandal, media said on Monday, as pressure mounted on the premier and his ally Finance Minister Taro Aso over a possible cover-up.

Finance Minister Taro Aso admitted "some staff members" at the ministry made 14 changes to official documents, but that he did not believe it was done to protect Abe.

"It's extremely regrettable and I apologise for this", Aso told reporters, when asked whether he felt responsible as head of the ministry involved in the alterations.

The operator had named Akie Abe the honorary principal of the school he was planning to build on the government plot.

The prime minister said Mr Aso will not step down.

Aso said on Monday he had no intention of resigning, but apologised for the tampering.

The Moritomo scandal, which first surfaced in February past year and pushed down Abe's support ratings, has drawn fresh attention after a major daily reported on March 2 that the ministry's documents had been doctored to remove descriptions saying the dramatically cut land sales price was "exceptional".

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"At the very least, it seems that Aso's chances of surviving as finance minister are diminishing rapidly", wrote Tobias Harris, vice president of consultancy Teneo Intelligence, in an email.

Eight out of 10 respondents said the government was not properly responding to the allegations.

On Friday, National Tax Agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa resigned over remarks in parliament past year about the case.

Sagawa was head of the finance ministry department that oversaw the land deal, before being promoted past year to tax agency chief. Yukio Edano, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said the document doctoring by the ministry "shakes the foundation of Japan's democracy". The changes were made from February to April previous year at the instruction of the Financial Bureau, the ministry department in charge of state property transactions, mostly at its regional unit in Osaka, Aso said.

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

Abe, 63, swept back to power in December 2012 promising to revive the economy and bolster Japan's defence.

His ruling bloc won a two-thirds "super majority" in a October lower house poll, helped by opposition disarray.

A March 9 to March 11 survey by the Yomiuri newspaper showed support for Abe's cabinet has now fallen to 48 per cent, down six points from a month earlier.

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