TOKYO: Japan's finance minister will skip a G20 meeting next week, officials said Friday, to address parliament as pressure mounts over a cronyism scandal and alleged cover-up dogging the prime minister.
Taro Aso "will concentrate on" dealing with parliament, and will be represented at the meeting by his deputy Minoru Kihara, a ministry official told AFP.
Ruling and opposition lawmakers have agreed to hold a hearing Monday on the growing scandal over the cut-price sale of government land to a supporter of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the alteration of finance ministry documents related to the deal.
Aso and Abe will attend the parliamentary session, according to opposition Democratic Party officials. Both have been on the ropes in recent days as the cronyism and cover-up scandal balloons.
Aso is under intense scrutiny after he admitted this week that official papers related to the favouritism scandal had been altered. He has repeatedly apologised, but rejected calls from the opposition to step down over the row, saying his job is "to find out truth" about the scandal.
The scandal centres on the 2016 sale of state-owned land to one of Abe's supporters at a price well below market value. It first emerged early last year, but resurfaced after the revelation that official documents related to the sale had been changed. Versions of the original and doctored documents made public by opposition lawmakers appeared to show passing references to Abe had been scrubbed, along with several references to his wife Akie, and to Aso.
Aso has blamed the alterations on "some staff members" at the ministry, and says he had only learned about them on Sunday. However, top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Thursday for his part that he and Abe learned about the possibility that documents had been altered days earlier.
Opposition parties want to summon Nobuhisa Sagawa, formerly the head of the finance ministry department that oversaw the land deal, to testify in parliament. Sagawa was promoted last year to tax agency chief but stepped down last week over the scandal. Abe's party is expected to approve the request for Sagawa to appear with the testimony coming as early as next week.
Adding to the row, a ministry official at the heart of the land deal was found dead last week in a suspected suicide. Japanese media reported Friday that files found on his computer say he was "forced to alter documents" by a superior, without naming the person.