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Editorial: As new evidence emerges, Finance Ministry must further probe Moritomo scandal

Yet another serious problem involving the heavily discounted sale of a state-owned land lot in Osaka Prefecture to the scandal-hit Moritomo Gakuen school corporation has surfaced.

    The Finance Ministry admitted in the Diet on April 9 that an official of its Financial Bureau had asked the school operator to provide a false explanation regarding the cost of removing waste from the site, and offered an apology.

    The ministry had previously explained that it estimated the cost of removing garbage buried in the land lot at approximately 800 million yen and reduced the price at which the government sold the property to the school operator by that amount.

    However, the ministry attempted to collude with Moritomo to lie about the volume of the waste. This is evidence that the ministry was aware that there is no basis for the discount.

    According to the Financial Bureau, one of its officials phoned Moritomo in February 2017 shortly after the scandal surfaced, and proposed that the school operator explain that "the removal of the waste appears to have cost a considerable amount of money, and thousands of trucks were obviously used" to carry the waste out of the property.

    Shortly before that, opposition parties had pointed out in a Diet session that to spend 800 million yen on removing the waste, about 4,000 trucks would be needed. It is obvious that the Financial Bureau official asked the school operator to collude with the bureau to provide a false explanation about the garbage removal in a bid to avoid being pursued by the opposition on that point.

    Moritomo reportedly declined the request apparently because the school operator thought such an obviously false explanation would soon be revealed. However, the Board of Audit of Japan pointed out in autumn last year that the basis for the cost of removing the waste could not be confirmed. Undoubtedly, the garbage removal is a core suspicion surrounding the heavy discount of the land sale.

    It is noteworthy that the Financial Bureau, and not the Kinki Local Finance Bureau which was handling the land deal, played a leading role in proposing to collude to provide a false explanation about the garbage removal cost. At that point, attention was already focused on relations between the school corporation and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife Akie. Suspicions have been raised that the Finance Ministry headquarters, rather than the local bureau, responded to the case because it is a matter of a highly political nature.

    Meanwhile, with regard to the ministry's alterations to documents regarding the Moritomo land sale, Prime Minister Abe stated that he closely reviewed the documents but found they contained nothing that would overthrow the government's past explanation of the case. However, if the prime minister meant that the government's past explanation is valid and the content of the documents remain unchanged even after being doctored, it would be unexplainable why the names of Akie Abe and some politicians were deleted from the documents. With regard to his own responsibility over the scandal, the prime minister cited that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party scored landslide victories in House of Representatives elections under his leadership and emphasized that his government has thus won public confidence.

    However, there is no doubt that the sales price of the land to Moritomo was heavily discounted for reasons that the government cannot disclose. The stubborn insistence that the land deal was conducted through appropriate procedures is unacceptable.

    The Finance Ministry cannot regain public confidence unless it swiftly conducts an in-house probe into the matter and cooperates in getting to the bottom of the scandal.

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