• Kyodo

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Moritomo Gakuen, the nationalist school operator at the center of a political scandal over its bargain-price purchase of state land, was sued Wednesday for alleged unpaid construction costs related to a newly built elementary school at the site.

Fujiwara Kogyo, an Osaka-based construction company, filed a lawsuit with the Osaka District Court demanding Moritomo Gakuen pay about ¥400 million that was due on March 31. The total unpaid amount exceeds ¥1.6 billion, the firm said.

Moritomo Gakuen bought the 8,770-sq.-meter plot of land for the school in the city of Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, last June at more than ¥800 million below its appraised value.

Abe’s wife Akie had close ties to the elementary school project, having been listed as the facility’s honorary principal until her recent resignation. She also gave speeches at a Moritomo Gakuen-run kindergarten that was probed over suspected hate speech after parents were given handouts denigrating Koreans and Chinese.

After the discounted land deal was criticized in the Diet, Moritomo Gakuen dropped its application to open the elementary school at the site. The school was scheduled to open this month.

“We haven’t heard anything (from Moritomo Gakuen). I suspect that we would not have been paid even if the school had been opened,” Koichi Fujiwara, president of Fujiwara Kogyo, said at a news conference after filing the lawsuit.

Fujiwara Kogyo signed a ¥1.55 billion contract with Moritomo Gakuen in December 2015 to build the school and an additional ¥90 million contract for cleanup of the soil in January. Although construction costs swelled further, Moritomo Gakuen had paid only ¥460 million as of October, according to a written complaint filed with the court.

Moritomo Gakuen declined to comment on the matter.

The construction firm needs to collect the money soon to pay subcontractors who worked on the project, said an attorney for Fujiwara Kogyo.

In a related development, it was learned Wednesday that a special investigative team at the Osaka District Public Prosecutor’s Office has accepted a complaint against the Finance Ministry’s Kinki bureau over the sweetheart land deal.

The investigative team accepted the complaint submitted by Toyonaka city assembly members and others on March 22 on suspicion of breach-of-trust charges against bureau officials. The team has already received a complaint against Moritomo Gakuen on suspicion of illegally securing subsidies to build the school.

Fujiwara Kogyo had already won approval from the court for provisional seizure of Moritomo Gakuen’s assets, such as the land and buildings of the kindergarten it operates in Osaka city as well as the house of its former head Yasunori Kagoike in the city of Toyonaka.

Last month, Kagoike was summoned to the Diet to give sworn testimony over the scandal, during which he repeated his earlier claim that the organization received a ¥1 million donation from the prime minister through his wife.

Abe has denied the allegation but his public support rating has taken a hit over the scandal.

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