Suicide note revives an Abe administration scandal

One of the biggest scandals of the Abe Shinzo administration is back in the headlines after a lawsuit brought new evidence to light.

The wife of a Finance Ministry official who killed himself in 2018 filed for damages against the ministry and the former head of its finance bureau on March 18. She’s claiming that they drove her husband to suicide and is calling for an investigation into a number of figures, including Abe and Finance Minister Aso Taro. Her evidence includes a suicide note that appears to support her claim.

The widow of Akagi Toshio says he was pressured into falsifying documents relating to the cut-price sale of public land to a school operator, Moritomo Gakuen, that had links to the Prime Minister's wife. And she revealed that he left behind a suicide note that read: "I will kill myself to take responsibility as someone who knows the truth," as well as memos stating that the tampering was ordered by finance bureau chief Sagawa Nobuhisa.

Akagi’s handwritten suicide note
Akagi’s handwritten suicide note

When the story of the land deal first broke, Abe told the Diet that he would resign if he or his wife were proven to have been involved. Sagawa told Diet hearings that records of the land negotiations had been discarded.

As internal documents regarding the deal subsequently surfaced one after another, the Abe administration later admitted that the documents existed but references to the sale price and the prime minister's wife had been deleted.

The Finance Ministry published the results of an investigation that concluded the falsifications were effectively ordered by Sagawa. Some senior ministry officials involved, including Sagawa, were punished with a pay cut, suspension, or a warning. But prosecutors concluded that it was difficult to hold any of the officials criminally responsible.

Moritomo Gakuen
Osaka-based school operator Moritomo Gakuen purchased state-owned land at a heavily discounted price.

The documents Akagi left behind show there is truth to the claim that Sagawa ordered the tampering.

"We were instructed from the beginning not to provide the record of negotiations with Moritomo either to the Diet or the Board of Audit," read one memo. And Akagi said he and his colleagues tried to refuse, but nobody could say no to Sagawa, "a bureaucrat famous for power harassment." "This is the kingdom of finance ministry bureaucrats," he wrote in the note.

Abe spoke to reporters one day after the lawsuit, saying: "It is deplorable that a hardworking official committed suicide. My heart aches. I'd like to offer a prayer for the deceased."

But he turned down a request for a new investigation into the issue. Finance Minister Taro Aso also said he has no intention of reinvestigating the scandal.

Osaka District Court
Akagi Toshio's widow filed a lawsuit on March 18, demanding damages from the government and the former chief of the ministry's financial bureau.

Akagi's widow released a statement via her attorney, saying: “It’s very regrettable, I’m saddened and trembling with anger.”

“These two [Prime Minister Abe and Finance Minister Aso] must be investigated,” she said. "And they must not be in a position to state that they will not conduct a reinvestigation." She also said that Prime Minister Abe created the cause for the document tampering in the first place with his remark in the Diet.

Last Friday, Akagi’s wife began an online petition calling for an independent panel to reinvestigate the case. Launching the campaign, she said she wants to know who gave the instruction and for what purposes.

The petition on the platform has received over 200,000 signatures as of Monday.