Abe urges ministry to make all-out effort in land deal probe

Abe urges ministry to make all-out effort in land deal probe

Abe urges ministry to make all-out effort in land deal probe

Lawmakers and taxpayers had demanded the resignation of Sagawa, with Abe and Finance Minister Taro Aso being forced to repeatedly defend the appointment in Parliament.

The body of the unidentified ministry official, who was in charge of state property transactions in western Japan, was found in his home this week, the ministry and media reports said. The man left a note and police are investigating the matter as a suicide, Kyodo News said.

In addition to stoking opposition parties' accusations of a cover-up by the Abe administration, the ministry's admission could strengthen calls even within the ruling coalition for Abe and Aso to be held to account.

Japanese police are investigating as possible suicide the death of an official at a finance ministry bureau that handled a land deal at the heart of a cronyism scandal threatening Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's popularity, media said on Friday.

The scandal over the heavily discounted sale of land in Osaka Prefecture to Moritomo Gakuen, a school operator with ties to Abe's wife, contributed to a decline in Abe's public popularity a year ago before the doctoring allegations reignited the issue this month. The issue was reignited when a major daily newspaper reported earlier in the month that relevant Finance Ministry documents had been doctored.

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Should documents be found to have altered, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet would likely face questions about who ordered the cover up.

The government denies that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a donation to the operator of the school.

But falling support could complicate his bid for a third term as Liberal Democratic Party leader in a September party vote. He oversaw a division in the Finance Ministry involved in negotiating the land sale before moving to head the tax agency. He declined to comment on whether Aso should take responsibility.

The plot of state-owned land was sold to Moritomo Gakuen for around 134 million yen (US$1.3 million), much less than its appraised value of 956 million yen.

Kagoike, after seeing his school plan suddenly stall after the land deal was reported, began criticizing Abe for distancing himself from him. The affair rocked Abe's popularity past year, with his approval rating at points falling below the disapproval rating, before a series of North Korean missile tests was seen to unnerve the public.

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