TOKYO, March 27 (Xinhua) -- A key figure in a document-tampering scandal involving Japan's Finance Ministry on Tuesday refused to testify on exactly how the ministry's Financial Bureau had deliberately altered the documents.
During his sworn testimony Tuesday given to the House of Councillors' Budget Committee, former national tax agency head Nobuhisa Sagawa also refused to testify on when he personally became aware of the falsification.
He admitted that the papers were altered within his section, but maintained that there was no pressure from outside, including from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the PM's wife Akie Abe, or Finance Minister Taro Aso to amend the documents.
Sagawa refused to answer lots of questions, stating that the case is currently "subject to prosecutors' investigation and possible criminal prosecution."
While giving false testimony or refusing to testify can have legal implications, under Japanese law a witness can avoid giving testimony for fear of criminal prosecution.
While refraining from answering as to when and how he became aware of the document alterations, citing the fact that he is under investigation and could face criminal prosecution, Sagawa apologized for causing disruption in the Diet and for undermining trust in the administration.
He also said that as head of the bureau at the time, he bears all the responsibility for the alterations.
Sagawa is also under investigation by Osaka prosecutors on suspicion of destroying negotiation records and other documents that would have served as a record of ministry officials selling the plot of state land at just a fraction of its appraisal value.
The opposition camp on Tuesday tried to ascertain whether the huge discount and subsequent document tampering was due to political pressure, like that from a senior politician or official like Aso, or whether they were altered voluntarily out of consideration for the prime minister's office and his wife's involvement with the school operator.
During the grilling and in response to a question by Democratic Party's Toshio Ogawa, Sagawa reiterated his view that neither Abe, nor anyone from the prime minister's office was involved in the issue, either by way of meetings held or other contact over the issue.
When asked by Akira Koike of the Japanese Communist Party as to Sagawa's reaction when he saw Akie Abe's name on the original documents, Sagawa reiterated his statement that he could not comment as he might risk criminal charges.
Kiyomi Tsujimoto of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan blasted Sagawa's testimony as "betraying public expectations."
She said she felt the government was angling to bring the scandal to an end by having the Financial Bureau conceding sole responsibility. She underscored the need for Akie Abe and other senior officials to give testimony.
The Finance Ministry has conceded that 14 documents related to the cut-price land transaction were altered between late February and April last year after officials at the Financial Bureau ordered its regional bureau in Osaka to do so and insisted Sagawa having played a key role.
Sagawa had been under pressure from opposition parties for allegedly making false parliamentary remarks while serving as director general of the ministry's Financial Bureau.
Abe, Akie and Aso have all denied their involvement and any wrongdoing in the influence-peddling scandal.
The opposition camp, however, are gearing up to summon Akie Abe and others to give testimony soon in a legitimate bid to conclude the protracted scandal that has seen the approval rating for Abe's cabinet plummeting, according to recent media polls.
Sagawa, meanwhile, could face perjury charges if he was found to have made false statements in his testimony Tuesday.
Regarding the cronyism scandal, Tuesday marks the first sworn testimony given in the Diet since the nationalist school operator's former head, Yasunori Kagoike, was summoned in March last year.
During Tuesday's proceedings, hundreds of protestors, including opposition party members, gathered outside the Diet building shouting "Tell the truth!"
The protest follows demonstrations last week calling for Abe and Aso to step down.