Pair denied return of plots trickily taken in Tanaka era

The Supreme Court upheld on Feb. 27 a high court ruling that denied two men the right to recover plots of land they sold to a company affiliated with the late Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka.

The two men — Masanori Oi, an employee of an agricultural cooperative, and Shoichi Hasegawa, a company employee, both from Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture — filed a suit in 1975 demanding that the company, Muromachi Sangyo, return the plots. While Tanaka was finance minister in 1964 and 1965, Muromachi Sangyo bought 70 hectares of land along the Shinano River in Nagaoka from about 300 people, including Oi and Hasegawa, for about 410 million yen. The value of the land later shot up following the beginning of projects by the Construction Ministry to build new embankments and a bypass connecting the area with the central part of the city.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed that the company had based their decision to purchase the land on information provided by Tanaka, who the company had close ties with. The two demanded that the land transaction be declared null and void and the company’s ownership of the plots be deleted from land registration documents.

In June 1988, the Niigata District Court turned down the plaintiffs’ request. The court ruled so on the grounds that Tanaka cannot be regarded as having a close relationship with Muromachi Sangyo.

In March 1993, the Tokyo High Court upheld that ruling, saying that although Tanaka in practice controlled the company and had a moral responsibility concerning the land deal, his position as a politician was not involved in the transaction. Tanaka, a defendant in the Lockheed payoff scandal, died in December 1993.