Published: Tue, March 13, 2018
Worldwide | By Victor Meyer

Japan's embattled finance minister mulling skipping G20 gathering

Japan's embattled finance minister mulling skipping G20 gathering

Abe, now in his sixth year in office, had tried to put behind him questions over the sale of state-owned land at a huge discount to a school operator with ties to his wife, Akie, behind him.

Today (March 12), in a major admission, the finance ministry said it had altered related documents it submitted to parliament as part of the probe. Deleting this passage could have been meant to obscure involvement by Finance Ministry headquarters in the deal. "But it's regrettable if the trust for the whole ministry is lost". "This has entered the stage where the responsibility of the prime minister himself will be called into question", opposition Democratic Party leader Yuichiro Tamaki, was quoted saying by Kyodo news agency.

The 77-year-old Aso, who doubles as deputy premier and whose backing is vital for Abe, apologized for his ministry's actions, but said that he had no intention of stepping down.

A spiralling cronyism scandal linked to the Japanese prime minister and his wife has reached fever pitch after the finance ministry admitted to tampering with records to remove references to the first lady. "Please go ahead." The land had been slated for construction of a new school in Osaka, Japan's third-largest city.

Questions about the sale of land - sold at a huge discount that officials said was for clean-up costs - have dogged Abe since it became public previous year.

At a news conference on Monday, Aso said bureaucrats altered the documents between February and April past year.

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Abe denied any wrongdoing, but opposition lawmakers allege political pressure was applied.

Aso said responsibility for the alterations lies with Nobuhisa Sagawa - who announced his resignation as Japan's tax chief Friday and headed the Financial Bureau when the scandal and alterations took place. Local media reported that the unnamed person committed suicide. Yukio Edano, leader of the constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said the document doctoring by the ministry "shakes the foundation of Japan's democracy".

In comments to the Nikkei newspaper, Shinjiro Koizumi, a rising star within the party and a son of Junichiro Koizumi, a former prime minister, said blaming bureaucrats was the equivalent of "cutting off a lizard's tail".

Aso and Abe have both defended the appointment as "appropriate" and Aso has said he will not resign. "We have to take it not only as an administrative issue, but as one that affects all politics". "We have to make them do so", a protester said.

His support fell by two percentage points to 44 per cent from last month, NHK said, while a separate survey in the Yomiuri Shimbun daily showed support down six percentage points to 48 per cent. The yen tends to strengthen at times of economic or political crisis.

Investors also remain cautious on the outlook for the U.S. Dollar due to concerns over U.S. trade protectionism after President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, except those from Mexico, Canada and Australia.

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