Nobuhisa Sagawa – Japan’s Disgraced Taxman

Ministry of Finance (Zaimusho) headquarters, Nagatacho, Tokyo - a focus of the Moritomo Gakuen scandal involving Nobuhisa Sagawa)

Nobuhisa Sagawa  佐川 宣寿

Mr. Nobuhisa Sagawa was the 48th Director the National Tax Agency of Japan, who resigned from his post in March 2018. He has figured prominently in the Japanese domestic news for the past year. This has been in regard to his suspected role in the falsification of data relating to a shady deal made between government officials and the proprietors of the right-wing school, the Moritomo Gakuen.

(Students at Moritomo Gakuen recite the Imperial Rescript on Education, which is tarnished by its intimate relationship with Japan’s imperial past. Making children recite it is considered an extreme form of nationalism in Japan, running counter to the post-War pacifist ethos.)

Moritomo Gakuen scandal-related testimony

Sagawa testified in the National Diet in regard to the massive discount that his Agency gave Moritomo Gakuen Educational Corporation in its purchase of government land to build a new school. This testimony became the subject of widespread scrutiny. Sagawa’s testimony concerned negotiations between the Kinki Local Finance Bureau (an organ of the Ministry of Finance, as is the National Tax Agency) and Moritomo Gakuen, and records of what was said and who was present at the negotiations.

Document falsification

It was alleged that minutes of the meetings between Moritomo Gakuen and the Ministry of Finance were erased and/or falsified. It is widely speculated that the falsifications were at the behest of the Minister of Finance, Taro Aso. The reason: to protect the reputation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife. Akie Abe was on the board of Moritomo Gakuen. The prime minister and his wife are therefore suspected of having pressed for the steep discount for Moritomo.

Sagawa’s testimony was marked by inconsistencies.

Nobuhisa Sagawa doublespeaks to Diet committees

On February 24, 2017, Sagawa testified to the House of Representatives Budget Committee in regard to the minutes of the meetings and negotiations between Moritomo Gakuen and the Kinki Local Finance Bureau. He said that “the purchase contract was concluded and the matter [of the purchase] thereby settled. The minutes were then promptly discarded.”

On April 3, 2017, Sagawa testified to the Committee on Audit and Oversight of Administration. He said that the proceedings were “recorded on a system that soon automatically deletes the data, making it irretrievable.”

And on April 28, he testified to the Committee on Finance and Fiscal Affairs. Audio data was said to have been recorded on March 15, 2016, when Ministry of Finance officials met Yasunori Kagoike, Moritomo Gakuen’s president, and wife Junko. However, this time Sagawa said: “I don’t know how that recording came into being.”

Related suicide

Then on March 7, 2018, an employee of the Kinki Local Finanace Bureau was found dead at his home, apparently a suicide. He had been senior director for government assets at the time of the negotiations with Moritomo Gakuen

Resignation

On March 9, 2018, Finance Minister Taro Aso cut Sagawa’s pay by 20% and subjected him to disciplinary measures for the term of three months on the grounds that Sagawa had damaged the credibility of the government’s administration of nationally owned land. On the same day, Sagawa resigned on the grounds that 1. he was careless in his responses to the National Diet, 2. he was remiss in his handling of government documents, 3. he was in charge of an office accused of altering documents. His pay cut amounted to about 660,000 yen, to be deducted from his 49.99 million yen severance payment.

Back in front of the National Diet

On March 27, 2018, the National Diet summoned Nobuhisa Sagawa to appear as a sworn witness. In response to questioning by Tamayo Marukawa and Akira Koike, both of the House of Councillors, Sagawa apologized, saying that he was solely responsible for what had happened. He denied allegations that the Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, Akie Abe, and Minister of Finance, Aso Taro, were involved in getting a discount for the land sold to Moritomo Gakuen. However, Sagawa refused to answer questions about why the falsification of data took place, when, and the people involved. The reason he gave was that he could be subject to criminal prosecution if he answered.

The deleted parts of the documents in question apparently all refer to Akie Abe. This only heightens suspicion regarding her involvement in brokering the shady deal.

Off the hook

Prosecutors indeed were investigating Sagawa; but just yesterday, on May 31, the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office announced that it would not be prosecuting Sagawa, as it would be difficult to prove the case against him.

According to comments by people who have worked with Sagawa, he was both a very exacting boss, and also very concerned about how he appeared to those above him.

And, indeed, Prime Minister Abe’s statements show that he was very pleased with Sagawa’s performance in the Diet. However, in a democracy, it is the voters and taxpayers who, in the end, are truly above – but Sagawa doesn’t seem to be able to see that far.

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