TOKYO — A former Japanese finance official denied Tuesday that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe or his wife instructed bureaucrats to alter documents in a land scandal that has shaken the government, but left other key questions unanswered.

Nobuhisa Sagawa, who previously headed a Finance Ministry department in charge of state property deals, apologized in parliamentary testimony over the document tampering, but repeatedly refused to answer lawmakers’ questions about whether he was aware of the changes or who ordered them and why, citing the possibility of facing criminal charges.

Sagawa, who most recently served as head of the National Tax Agency, stepped down from the post this month over his handling of the case last year.

The scandal relates to the 2016 sale of state land to a right-wing school operator, Moritomo Gakuen group in Osaka, at one-seventh of its appraised price. There are allegations that the deal involved Abe’s wife, Akie, who briefly served as honorary principal for a planned new elementary school.

The Finance Ministry said it has found hundreds of alterations in 14 documents related to the land deal. The changes were made from February to April last year at the finance bureau.

Abe has apologized to the public over the document tampering, but repeatedly denied his or his wife’s involvement. He said in February 2017 that he would step down if he or his wife were found to have influenced the deal. The timing of that remark sparked speculation that the document was altered to protect him.

Sagawa denied Tuesday that Abe’s remark affected his responses last year at parliamentary sessions about the deal.

The Moritomo scandal was on the backburner after Abe’s autumn election victory, but resurfaced this month with reports of the document alterations, sending Abe’s approval ratings plummeting and possibly risking his chances for a third term as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and a three-year extension of his time as prime minister.

Outside parliament where Sagawa testified, hundreds of protesters called Abe a liar and demanded his resignation.

Opposition lawmakers criticized Sagawa’s silence on key questions Tuesday and demanded that Abe’s wife and others implicated in the land deal testify next. “Suspicions have even deepened,” said Seiji Osaka of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. “I’m afraid (the ruling party) is putting the blame on Mr. Sagawa to close the curtain on the case.”

Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the ruling party, said Tuesday’s testimony showed Abe and other political leaders were not involved in the scandal.

The investigation showed that one of the documents had originally stated that the school operator told officials that Akie Abe encouraged him to proceed with the land deal, and that several conservative lawmakers had contacted the ministry about the school plan, but the references to them were deleted. It was not clear whether they violated any law, however.

Another document originally noted that the school operator was involved with a powerful pro-Abe political lobby, but that comment was later deleted.


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