National

Moritomo Gakuen overstated school construction costs in ministry filing, records show

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Moritomo Gakuen, under fire for a questionable land deal with the government, vastly overstated construction costs for a new elementary school in paperwork submitted to the land ministry, records show.

In the documents, the construction costs for the school in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, were said to be about ¥2 billion, almost three times the figure on a contract signed with a construction company, a copy of which prefectural officials made available Monday evening.

On Tuesday, Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, who was in office when the deal went down, said the latest revelation might be evidence of a criminal offense.

Moritomo Gakuen’s lawyer told the prefecture that ¥756 million was the correct figure. Still, Matsui has effectively killed off plans to open the school next month, saying the situation needs to be reviewed.

“It’s a double standard, like fraud,” Matsui said Monday evening. “I can’t trust them.”

Separately on Tuesday, the Liberal Democratic Party again rejected calls by opposition parties to summon Moritomo Gakuen head Yasunori Kagoike. The parties want Kagoike to testify in the Diet about why the institution was able to purchase a plot of government-owned land at a huge discount.

At a meeting Tuesday between Upper House LDP Diet affairs committee chair Masaji Matsuyama and his DP counterpart, Kazuya Shimba, Matsuyama said he was reluctant to summon a private citizen.

Opposition parties are also seeking the testimony of Finance Ministry bureaucrats involved in negotiations over the land sale. They want to find out how Moritomo was able to purchase a plot of land valued at ¥956 million for just ¥134 million.

In addition, it has been learned that first lady Akie Abe was accompanied by civil servants on two occasions when she visited a Moritomo Gakuen-run kindergarten to deliver speeches. In written answers provided Tuesday to Democratic Party lawmaker Kiyomi Tsujimoto, the party’s vice secretary-general, the Abe government said public officials accompanied Akie Abe when she gave speeches at Moritomo in December 2014 and September 2015.

Abe told the Diet his wife’s September 2015 visit and speech, which took place the day after he visited Osaka and at a time when negotiations over the land sale were under way, was made in her capacity as a private citizen, as was the other.

During the visit, the first lady was introduced as the honorary head of the new school, a position she quit last month as news broke about the land deal and allegations of hate speech directed toward Chinese and Korean residents by staff at the Moritomo kindergarten.

The revelations raise further questions about whether the first lady is a public servant or a private individual.