March 7, 2018 / 5:58 AM / 11 days ago

Japan ruling party heavyweights seek response to forgery suspicion

TOKYO (Reuters) - Senior politicians in Japan’s ruling coalition are pressuring the government to respond to suspicion that bureaucrats forged documents at the centre of a cronyism scandal threatening to erode the influence of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) policy chief Fumio Kishida speaks during a news conference at the LDP's headquarters in Tokyo, Japan October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Files

For months, Abe has struggled to draw a line under suspicion that a school operator used ties with Abe’s wife to get a discount deal on land for a school in the western city of Osaka.

Last week, the Asahi newspaper reported that discrepancies in some documents related to the sale suggested forgery.

Finance Minister Taro Aso and one of his most experienced bureaucrats have repeatedly dodged requests to submit the original documents to parliament, frustrating some ruling party politicians.

“If these documents were forged, this is something that can’t be allowed to happen,” Fumio Kishida, head of policy for Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), said on Wednesday.

“The finance ministry has to explain this, and this is what the LDP will call on the finance ministry to do.”

Kishida’s comments came shortly after another senior member of the LDP and the head of the LDP’s coalition partner called for the finance ministry to publish an investigation in the next few days.

Abe, who has repeatedly denied that he or his wife did favours for the former head of the school operator Moritomo Gakuen, Yasunori Kagoike, led his ruling coalition to a sweeping election win in October last year.

However, the finance ministry’s inability to offer a convincing explanation in parliament since the election as to why Kagoike got a sweetheart deal on the plot of land in Osaka has fuelled doubts about Abe’s leadership.

Kishida, who is seen as a possible contender for prime minister, said on Wednesday he had not decided whether or not to run in an LDP leadership election expected in September.

Reporting by Stanley White; Editing by Chris Gallagher, Robert Birsel

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