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New audio data suggests Finance Ministry, Moritomo arranged story about buried waste

  • November 29, 2017
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

The Finance Ministry has admitted the existence of an audio file that recorded exchanges between the ministry and school operator Moritomo Gakuen over waste buried under state-owned land sold at a heavily discounted price to the institution, suggesting that the two parties may have coordinated a story as the premise for an 800-million-yen discount.

The Finance Ministry’s acknowledgement of a new recording cast an additional doubt over a claim by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the land sale was appropriate. The land in the Osaka Prefecture city of Toyonaka was sold to Moritomo Gakuen at an 800-million-yen discount on the grounds of the cost of removing waste from the property.

 

During a House of Representatives budget committee meeting on Nov. 28, Takeshi Miyamoto of the opposition Japanese Communist Party asked questions about the audio data reported by a Kansai Telecasting program in September. In the recording, a person believed to be a construction company representative said they were not sure if the waste had been dug up from a depth of 3 meters or deeper, to which a person believed to be a government official responded, “The wording should be (the waste was) ‘mixed to the extent of 9 meters.'” The Moritomo Gakuen representative then said, “This may sound like a play on words, but who can deny the possibility of waste being mixed (in the soil) as far as 9 meters under (the property)?” The one thought to be a government official then concluded, “We would like to follow that line.”

 

Mitsuru Ota, head of the Finance Ministry’s Financial Bureau, admitted during the Diet panel session that the recording was that of a negotiation between the Kinki Local Finance Bureau and Moritomo Gakuen which took place sometime between late March and April 2016. Ota also said an official from the West Japan Civil Aviation Bureau of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism was present at the meeting. The school operator contacted the Kinki bureau on March 11 that year claiming that more buried objects had been discovered at the property, and indicated on March 24 that the group wanted to purchase the land lot at a price after the waste removal cost was deducted. At the same time, Ota denied that the parties involved arranged the story.

 

Meanwhile, Ota told the panel meeting that of the approximately 972 no-bid contracts the Finance Ministry handled in the past four years, the property sale with Moritomo Gakuen was the only case where the sale price was not made public.

 

Board of Audit of Japan President Teruhiko Kawato, who also attended the panel meeting, said the board has not been able to confirm any basis for the calculation on the area size or depth of the waste, or the rate of how much waste was mixed in the soil.

 

In response to Kawato’s statement, Prime Minister Abe told the lower house budget committee that each ministry will check the consistency of their officials’ past answers given at the Diet.

 

While Abe remained wary of the Diet summoning his wife Akie, who was once appointed as honorary principal of the elementary school that Moritomo Gakuen had planned to open on the property in question, Abe said he would follow the Diet’s decision if the legislature decides to summon her.

 

Opposition forces demanded that the Diet call in Akie Abe and National Tax Agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa, who served as head of the Financial Bureau at the time of the land sale, for questioning, as well as hold intensive deliberation on scandals including the Moritomo deal, but the ruling parties are expected to refuse to comply.

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