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Japan PM, finance minister under fire over suspected cronyism scandal

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SHINZO ABE TARO ASO JAPAN PARLIAMENT SCANDAL REUTERS

Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said on Monday he had no intention to resign over revelations that documents related to a state land sale were altered.

The admission that public documents have been tampered with is likely to deal a heavy blow to the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, political watchers said.

"I have received a report that it appears there were changes in documents", Moriyama told reporters.

Questions over the sale of state-owned land at a huge discount, to a school operator with ties to Abe's wife, Akie, have dogged Abe since the matter became public previous year.

The records that were altered pertain to a shady deal reached to sell a plot of state-owned land to Osaka's Moritomo Gakuen, a nationalist school operator in June 2016.

In relation to the unfolding document-tampering scandal, National Tax Agency Commissioner Nobuhisa Sagawa, who was director general of the ministry's Financial Bureau when the documents were submitted to the Diet, stepped down from the top agency post on Friday to take responsibility for causing confusion in the Diet.

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Sagawa headed the ministry division that submitted the documents before he was tapped as tax agency chief in July, an appointment critics saw as a reward for his efforts to diffuse the issue with his statements to parliament a year ago.

"It is possible that Sagawa ordered the alterations", the newspaper said, citing government sources.

"Market participants had been concerned that Aso would resign over the scandal, but such excessive concerns subsided following his comments", an official at a foreign exchange brokerage house said.

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. He said there was no "smoking gun" showing direct intervention by Abe or his wife.

But a poll released published Monday in the Yomiuri Shimbun showed his support dropping by six percentage points from last month to 48 percent, the first reading under 50 percent since he won re-election in October.

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