Japan finance ministry confirms death of official in scandal

In this March 2017 photo, National Tax Agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa answers a question during a budget committee of the Upper House in Tokyo. Japan’s tax agency chief promoted to the post after dealing with a scandal linked to First Lady Akie Abe resigned Friday, March 9, 2018 and another official also involving the case was found dead in an apparent suicide, rattling Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government. (Yoshinobu Shimizu/Kyodo News via AP)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and Finance Minister Taro Aso attend the plenary session of the Upper House in Tokyo, Friday, March 9, 2018. Japan’s tax agency chief promoted to the post after dealing with a scandal linked to First Lady Akie Abe resigned Friday, and another official also involving the case was found dead in an apparent suicide, rattling Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government. (Toshiyuki Matsumoto/Kyodo News via AP)

TOKYO — A Finance Ministry official linked to a scandal involving the wife of Japan's prime minister has been found dead, the ministry confirmed Friday, and a second official resigned.

The death and resignation rattled Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government. Opposition lawmakers said they would further scrutinize the scandal.

The body of the unidentified ministry official, who was in charge of state property transactions in western Japan, was found in his home this week, the ministry and media reports said. The ministry declined to provide additional details. Local media said the man killed himself.

Finance Minister Taro Aso announced the resignation of National Tax Agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa, who previously headed a ministry department in charge of state property deals.

Aso said Sagawa resigned to take responsibility for his handling of the scandal. Sagawa was frequently summoned to parliament last year to explain the government's handling of the scandal, and his blunt and impatient responses sparked public criticism. Sagawa later acknowledged destroying some documents related to the scandal, triggering an investigation by authorities.

The scandal involves the questionable sale in 2016 of state land to an ultra-nationalist school operator at one-seventh of its appraised price. Yasunori Kagoike, the former head of the Moritomo Gakuen school group, purchased the land to build a new elementary school, where Abe's wife briefly served as honorary principal. The Abes are known to have supported the school's ultra-nationalist philosophy of education.

Kagoike, after seeing his school plan suddenly stall after the land deal was reported, began criticizing Abe for distancing himself from him. He was taken into custody in July for alleged fraud, which critics said was a politically motivated effort to silence him.

Aso said Sagawa received a salary cut for his handling of the scandal, indicating that his resignation was virtually a dismissal. Opposition lawmakers, who have been emboldened by a media report that finance officials doctored documents related to the scandal, accused the Abe administration of dismissing Sagawa in an attempt to limit public anger.

Abe and finance officials have denied any wrongdoing in the scandal, which has caused parliamentary sessions to grind to a halt.

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