Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike on Friday said she would seek answers in court as to whether her predecessor Shintaro Ishihara was the chief cause behind the Tsukiji fish market relocation fiasco.
The comments mark a departure from the metropolitan government’s pervious stance that Ishihara was not responsible.
Koike said she believes that clarifying all the facts and determining whether Ishihara bears responsibility for the alleged illegal acquisition of the Toyosu site is essential to enhance administrative reforms.
“I have doubts over whether we should continue such practices,” she added, referring to the lack of transparency in previous administrations. “My goal is to proceed with administrative reforms and bring transparency … Resolving the Toyosu case is only one step forward.”
At her regular news conference at the Metropolitan Government building in Shinjuku Ward, Koike also announced a decision to replace lawyers handling the Ishihara case.
Her announcement came days after an expert panel tasked with assessing the Toyosu site’s safety revealed the presence of benzene 79 above the allowable safety limit in groundwater at 72 of 201 monitoring points.
A group of Tokyoites in 2012 filed a lawsuit against Ishihara in the Tokyo District Court. The suit claims the process for purchasing land in the Toyosu area of Koto Ward, and its selection, were illegal because Ishihara did not include the cost of decontamination.
In March 2011, the cost to decontaminate the site stood at around ¥58.6 billion. It increased by 2015 to ¥84.9 billion. Under scrutiny is whether liability for defects was included in the contract.
The Toyosu site was formerly used by Tokyo Gas Co. for a factory operation, leaving contamination behind.
The citizens have demanded that Ishihara return some ¥57.8 billion to the metro government. According to the lawsuit, the citizens would accept a ¥7.8 billion reduction of the fee.
The metropolitan government had previously said that Ishihara held no liabilities in damages. But Koike changed that stance, saying that she shares citizens’ concerns that the process of selecting the site wasn’t sufficiently transparent or might have been improper.
Koike said she would set up a team to cooperate with the newly-appointed lawyers in order to delay oral proceedings scheduled for Feb. 9 until April. The next hearing will be the 22nd in the case, Koike said.
Koike is also questioning the selection of companies tasked with groundwater sampling before Koike assumed office last August.
Tests have been conducted since November 2014. But toxins were first detected after Koike took control of the relocation project and replaced officials, whose decisions deviated from a plan aimed at decontaminating the site.
“At this point, with these results, the assessment is hard to conduct,” Koike said.
The governor said the city will engage experts and appoint new companies in a re-examination of the Toyosu site under stricter rules.
She didn’t deny that her involvement in Ishihara’s trial might somehow affect the decision on the market relocation that initially was supposed to take place in November.
“I’m not delaying the relocation because I want to,” Koike said. “I just want to find out where the problem lies.”