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Government to pay damages over suicide linked to Moritomo Gakuen scandal

The government agreed Wednesday to pay damages to a former finance ministry bureaucrat’s wife who alleges her husband killed himself after being ordered to tamper with documents related to favoritism allegations against then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the wife’s lawyer said.

The decision to pay around ¥100 million ($880,000) in compensation as sought by Masako Akagi, 50, ends the suit between the state and the plaintiff and ensures the detailed process leading to the alteration of the documents will not be revealed.

“I feel like I lost (in the suit). Even though I have been seeking the truth, I am so disappointed with the suit ending like this,” Akagi told a news conference.

Her husband Toshio, then 54, committed suicide in March 2018. She claims he suffered severe mental distress.

“The state ended the lawsuit in a closed consultation,” her lawyer told the news conference, adding the government did not give any prior notification. “I believe the state has facts that it wants to hide.”

The lawsuit will continue with the remaining defendant Nobuhisa Sagawa, then-chief of the ministry’s Finance Bureau in charge of managing state assets. The plaintiff alleges Sagawa ordered his subordinates in February to March 2017 to alter the documents regarding a heavily discounted sale of state-owned land to a private school operator with ties to Abe’s wife Akie.

Akie Abe was an honorary principal of an elementary school that was to be opened by Moritomo Gakuen, an educational institution in Osaka and the buyer of the state land in question.

The Finance Ministry has admitted to tampering with documents related to the land transaction, while Sagawa has denied personal responsibility.

The state said in a document submitted Wednesday to the Osaka District Court that the cause of Akagi’s death was the pressure of work dealing with Moritomo Gakuen, including the alteration of the document, according to Akagi’s lawyer.

The lawyer said the government stated in its document it accepted the claim because it does not wish to prolong the lawsuit.

According to the lawyer, it is extremely rare for the state to accept the plaintiff’s claim as is.

In a report on its investigation into the document tampering in June 2018, the ministry admitted that Sagawa directed officials to falsify and delete parts of the documents related to Akie Abe.

The plaintiff has asked Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to re-investigate the case as the report did not refer to the death of her husband, who worked at the ministry’s Kinki Local Finance Bureau.

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