Records linked to controversial Moritomo land deal negotiations unveiled

JIJI, Staff Report

The Finance Ministry’s Kinki Bureau has kept documents detailing negotiations of a controversial discounted sale of a plot of state-owned land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen, it has been learned.

The revelation on Monday marks the first disclosure of written records related to the scrutinized deal. The ministry previously told the Diet that the records had been destroyed. A ministry official said Monday that the released records don’t pertain to negotiations but are related to legal consultations within the bureau.

Moritomo had planned to open an elementary school on the plot in April 2017. The land was sold to the school operator — which had been linked to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, Akie — for ¥134 million, a discount of some ¥800 million meant to cover alleged waste disposal costs. Since news of the land deal broke last year, Abe has been dogged by allegations of cronyism related to the deal, which he has denied.

The newly released documents include records of inquiries and consultations between a bureau official in charge of the land talks and internal legal staff. They specifically address how to respond to waste found buried at the plot in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture. The documents, totaling 40 pages, were produced from March to May 2016.

According to a document dated March 24, the school operator proposed that the waste problem be dealt with by discounting the land’s price due to what it claimed to be high disposal costs. The Moritomo side also warned that a delay in opening the school would have serious consequences and that if their proposal was rejected, the operator would need to scrap the project and seek damages.

The bureau’s land sale negotiator told an internal legal staff member that the disposal costs could potentially be discounted from the land price and asked what legal responsibility the bureau would bear. The staff member responded that it would be preferable to make a decision on the proposal quickly in order to avoid a damages claim.

Moritomo’s assertions and details of negotiations were included in almost all of the documents. In an April 22 document, a proxy for Moritomo promised not to seek damages if the school operator succeeded in acquiring the land.

The documents were disclosed at the request of Hiroshi Kamiwaki, a professor at Kobe Gakuin University.