Japan probes possible suicide of finance official amid cronyism scandal

09 March 2018 - 09:12 By Reuters
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. File photo
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. File photo
Image: Kyodo/via REUTERS

Japanese police are investigating as possible suicide the death of an official at a finance ministry bureau that handled a land deal at the heart of a cronyism scandal threatening Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's popularity, media said on Friday.

Suspicions that a school operator with ties to Abe's wife, Akie, got a sweetheart deal on land for a school in the city of Osaka dented the premier's popularity last year and the opposition has increased pressure on Abe after documents released by a ministry failed to banish suspicion that some had been doctored.

A finance ministry employee in the western region where the school is located was found dead at his home on March 7 and police are investigating it as a suicide, the Kyodo and Jiji news agencies reported.

A police spokesman declined to comment.

Asked about the reports of the possible suicide, Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters: "I've heard about the matter."

The former head of the school operator and his wife were arrested in July on suspicion of illegally receiving subsidies.

Abe, in his sixth year in office and eyeing a three-year extension from September, had seemed to put the matter behind him with a big election win for the ruling bloc in October.

But opposition parties have turned up the heat again after the Asahi newspaper reported that some documents about the land sale may have been doctored. That followed revelations the finance ministry had retained documents that officials had said no longer existed.