Japan's Abe, wife under fire over cover-up of cronyism

Prosecutors have evidence of document tampering

Streets were filled with people chanting "No more lies" and "Don't falsify documents" after Aso admitted earlier in the day that his ministry had altered documents over a deal reached in 2016 for the hugely discounted sale of state land to Moritomo Gakuen, a school operator with ties to Abe's wife Akie. "If we don't make clear who did this, trust in the LDP will waver".

The controversy has caused the Diet to stall, but Sakakibara said he still wants lawmakers to deliberate on other key issues during the current ordinary session through June, including labor reforms aimed at addressing overworking and exempting certain skilled workers from working-hour regulations.

Abe has denied that he or his wife did any favours for the school operator, Moritomo Gakuen, which promotes a nationalist education curriculum. Akie Abe left her role at the school after the scandal broke.

In a parliamentary hearing Monday, Finance Ministry officials confirmed that a reference to Akie Abe having recommended the land deal was deleted from a document after the scandal surfaced.

Also removed was a reference to ties by Mr Abe and Mr Aso to a conservative lobby group, Nippon Kaigi.

Allegations against Ms Abe, for her involvement with Moritomo Gakuen, an operator of ultraconservative schools that was able to purchase government land in Osaka at a fraction of its value, first emerged early a year ago, but resurfaced after the revelation that official documents related to the sale had been changed.

Adding to the pressure, a finance ministry official linked to the scandal was found dead on Friday, although it is not clear if the reported suicide is linked to the affair.

The doubts are also putting pressure on Aso to resign. Aso's first line of defence is to say he must stay on to ensure a thorough investigation of the matter at his ministry.

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The shoe is on the other foot after past year and I'm sure they will be licking their lips". "So for us it's about making sure we perform and play well, and get the result".

But the alterations do fuel suspicion of a cover-up, which could be more damaging to Abe and Aso than the original land sale itself.

The backing of Aso, 77, who doubles as deputy premier, is vital to Abe's bid for a third term and a key factor in the stability of his administration.

"At the very least, it seems that Mr Aso's chances of surviving as Finance Minister are diminishing rapidly", Tobias Harris, vice president of consultancy Teneo Intelligence, wrote in an email.

Aso said the documents were doctored to be "coherent" with a speech made in parliament by the head of the tax agency Nobuhisa Sagawa, who stepped down on Friday over the scandal.

Some LDP members said the saga could undermine the party.

Abe, 63, swept back to power in December 2012 promising to revive the economy and bolster Japan's defense.

His ruling bloc won a two-thirds "super majority" in an October lower house poll, helped by opposition disarray.

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