National

Osaka school in hate speech scandal now accused of backfilling tainted soil

Kyodo

Nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen in Osaka hired a waste disposal service to backfill waste found at the heavily discounted construction site where it is building a new elementary school, an employee of the disposal firm says.

The school is also being probed about the nature of the land purchase, how it got such a favorable discount from the government and hate speech allegations involving its clients.

About half of the dirt-and-waste mixture excavated from the site was reburied, according to a man who works for the contractor.

“At the site, the dirt was polluted soil and had a caustic odor,” the man said in an interview on Sunday. “I thought there would be a problem if children were to play on ground like that.”

Moritomo Gakuen, based in the city of Osaka, bought the 8,770-sq.-meter lot in neighboring Toyonaka in June for ¥134 million — only about 14 percent of its appraised value.

The company’s new elementary school is scheduled to open there in April, but Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui has signaled that the prefecture may not approve it and that local authorities might reinvestigate the site.

The Toyonaka Municipal Government decided on Monday to launch a probe to determine whether the industrial waste at the site was appropriately managed, city officials said.

The decision comes after Matsui called for a new investigation “to see if the environment is suitable for children.” The suggestion was made Saturday during a meeting of national opposition party Nippon Ishin no Kai, which he heads.

Matsui told reporters later in the day that it will be a major problem if the school chain in fact reburied waste that it claimed to have removed.

On its website, Moritomo Gakuen said Sunday that it only “temporarily placed” some of the dirt underground, arguing that the waste disposal firm was mistaken when it said it had helped the school operator conceal the waste by backfilling the material.

Work to unearth the dirt will likely begin Tuesday, it said.

Moritomo Gakuen recently stoked controversy and criticism after one of its kindergartens distributed disparaging statements directed against Korean residents of Japan and Chinese people.

The man at the waste disposal firm said he was assigned to load about 2,000 cubic meters of dirt piled on the site of the school’s planned athletic field into a dump truck using a power shovel from mid-November to early December.

The dirt looked brown and was mixed with waste — including socks, seasoning packets and tiles — and had an acrid smell similar to ammonia, the man recalled.

He was then told by a separate company hired by the school chain to “dig a new hole, fill it with polluted soil and carry out the clean soil,” the man said. He thought the firm was trying to cut costs by avoiding the high fees for waste disposal.

Finally, the man carried out half of the dirt, which had lower levels of waste, to a disposal field in Kyoto Prefecture and then backfilled the remainder, which contained high levels of waste, he said.

The contaminated soil was covered with only a sprinkling of fresh dirt on the surface, the man said.

“There’s polluted soil just 5 to 10 cm below the surface,” he said. “Even a child would be able to dig that up.”

The land is worth ¥956 million, according to a property evaluation. But about ¥800 million was deducted from the sale price as expenses for cleanup work claimed by the company.

The lot is near Osaka International Airport, known as Itami airport, and was owned by the West Japan Civil Aviation Bureau, part of the transport ministry.

The man from the disposal firm made similar statements to Yuichiro Tamaki of the Democratic Party, who questioned Cabinet ministers and government officials about the issue last week in the Diet.