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Japan official linked to Abe cronyism row found dead: reports

[TOKYO] A Japanese finance ministry official at the centre of cronyism allegations linked to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been found dead, local media reported on Friday.

Police are investigating the death of the official in Kobe in western Japan and suspect he committed suicide, Jiji Press and Kyodo News reported, citing unnamed police sources.

A police spokesman contacted by AFP could not confirm the reports.

The unidentified official, who was found dead on Wednesday, was at the heart of a scandal over the cut-price sale of government-owned land to a close friend of Mr Abe, the reports said.

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He was responsible for the 2016 sale of a plot of land in Osaka to the right-wing operator of a kindergarten at a price well below market value, according to reports.

The sale has erupted into a scandal that has dogged Mr Abe since it first emerged last February, though the prime minister has denied any wrongdoing and his approval ratings remain solid.

Media reports said the land was sold for around a tenth of its market value, and that the kindergarten had announced plans to name Mr Abe's wife Akie the honorary principal of a primary school being built on the same plot.

Mr Abe says his wife had only "reluctantly" accepted the post of honorary principal and had since "resigned".

Last week, allegations emerged that the finance ministry's documents on the sale had been tampered with before being submitted to parliament.

The allegation has paralysed parliament in recent days, with some opposition lawmakers boycotting debate.

They have accused ministry officials of hiding some key documents and colluding to cover up the scandal.