Japan’s embattled Prime Minister hit back at critics on Monday over a favouritism and cover-up scandal that has seen his popularity plunge and loosened his iron grip on power.
In a hotly awaited statement in parliament, Shinzo Abe denied he had ordered bureaucrats to alter documents relating to a controversial land sale as he comes under mounting pressure over the affair.
“I have never ordered changes,” he said.
The scandal surrounds the 2016 sale of state-owned land to a nationalist operator of schools who claims ties to Abe and his wife Akie.
The sale was clinched at a price well below market value amid allegations that the high-level connections helped grease the deal.
The affair emerged early last year but resurfaced after the revelation that finance ministry 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 were deleted, along with several references to his wife Akie and Finance Minister Taro Aso.
Aso has blamed the alterations on “some staff members” at the ministry.
But Jiro Yamaguchi, a politics professor at Hosei University in Tokyo, said the public was “not at all convinced” by this explanation.
“Why was the land sold at a discount price? Without any political pressure, this could never happen, and voters are angry about it,” said Yamaguchi.
The prime minister repeated an apology, saying he “keenly felt” his responsibility for the scandal that has “shaken people’s confidence in government administration.”