‘Akagi file’ shows bureaucrats were forced to falsify land-sale documents

The released documents have revealed how the Finance Ministry ignored the opposition of frontline staff and forced them to falsify official documents. It is necessary to take this opportunity to reexamine the structure of the organization’s cover-up.

Regarding the issue of the Finance Ministry’s falsification of official documents to approve the sale of state-owned land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen, documents referred to as the “Akagi file” were compiled by Toshio Akagi, then an official of the Finance Ministry’s Kinki Local Finance Bureau. Akagi took his own life in 2018, and the file has now been disclosed to his bereaved family.

Akagi’s wife called on the government and other parties to produce the file during a court case in which she is demanding compensation from them. The more than 500-page file, which was kept by the ministry side, included a chart based on a record of events related to the document-tampering, and emails exchanged between the ministry and the local finance bureau, both of which were left behind by Akagi. In the file, however, the names of some officials were blacked out.

According to a report on the investigation into this scandal that was released by the ministry in 2018, the ministry’s Financial Bureau gave detailed instructions on how to tamper with the wording of the official documents, and officials, mainly those of the Kinki Local Finance Bureau, actually carried out the falsifications. However, the newly released Akagi file described how the local finance bureau “strongly protested to the ministry over the falsification of the approved official documents.”

It is only natural that frontline officials who were forced to be involved in wrongdoing became angry. It was deeply wrong for the ministry to have repeatedly falsified the official documents in a manner involving the entire organization.

Nobuhisa Sagawa, then director general of the Financial Bureau, repeatedly denied that politicians were involved in the land sales in the Diet. In an effort to finesse Diet deliberations, the number of falsifications in the approved official documents reached about 300, including deleted references to inquiries from people related to politicians.

The file also included a statement that “Director General Sagawa’s instructions were not explained in detail, and were sent by the ministry unilaterally through email.” This clearly indicates that frontline officials were frustrated at being ordered to falsify the documents without being informed of the detailed circumstances.

The government initially did not make clear even the existence of the file, saying that it had nothing to do with the point of dispute in court. The release of the file at this point was prompted by the court. It must be said that the government’s response was insincere. This attitude may have been the basis for the ministry’s falsifications and cover-up.

Following the release of the file, Finance Minister Taro Aso said, “The ministry completed its investigation into the falsification issue in 2018,” adding that the ministry is not considering a reinvestigation of the case.

In the lawsuit, the court will examine the released file to determine whether the falsifications were related to Akagi’s suicide. To get to the bottom of the matter, the government should face the trial with sincerity.

In recent years, there has often been sloppy management of official documents, which has undermined public trust in government ministries and agencies. Keeping records of the policy-making process and being accountable to the public are essential for sound democracy.

Politicians and bureaucrats should recognize again the importance of document management and take urgent measures to prevent the recurrence of such a scandal.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on June 23, 2021.