TOKYO -- Former Finance Ministry Financial Bureau chief Nobuhisa Sagawa was allegedly aware that records existed of negotiations between the ministry and Moritomo Gakuen over the heavily discounted sale of state land to the school operator, it has emerged, raising the possibility that he made false statements in the Diet that such records had been discarded.
Sagawa, who stepped down as National Tax Agency chief in March, repeatedly told the Diet last year that negotiation records over the controversial property sale to Moritomo Gakuen had been "thrown away." However, a revelation on May 16 suggests that he may have concealed the presence of the records while knowing about them and given false explanations to the Diet. Opposition parties are expected to further grill the government over the matter on top of the ministry's doctoring of documents over the land deal.
According to sources close to the government, Sagawa learned of the existence of the negotiation records in question after the land sale scandal surfaced in February last year. However, Sagawa apparently decided that the presence of those records should be kept secret in order not to disrupt Diet proceedings. The records fell under those that could be discarded less than one year after they were compiled at the discretion of departments in charge at the ministry. At the time, opposition parties were demanding that the ministry conduct an investigation into whether such negotiation records existed and, if they did, disclose the documents.
At a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on Feb. 24, 2017, Sagawa said, "The matter was wrapped up when a sale contract was concluded in June 2016, and the records were immediately discarded at the time. There remain no such records." He reiterated similar statements during the regular Diet session last year.
It had earlier emerged that some officials in charge of the property sale at the ministry's Kinki Local Finance Bureau had kept "memoranda" on the negotiations over the property sale.
It has also been revealed that the Finance Ministry has kept hundreds of pages of records over the 134 million yen land sale, which apparently include the detailed exchanges between ministry officials and Moritomo representatives over the approximately 800 million yen discount from the appraised land price on the grounds of the cost to remove garbage. Some officials had apparently kept such records personally in preparation for a possible lawsuit in the future over the land deal.
The Finance Ministry has been investigating the negotiation records and is set to report the findings to the Diet possibly later this month. At a post-Cabinet meeting press conference on May 15, Finance Minister Taro Aso commented, "First and foremost, it is necessary to prioritize our probe into the doctoring of ministry documents (regarding the land sale), but we would also like to investigate the negotiation records. As of now, we cannot say whether the negotiation records exist or not."
(Japanese original by Wataru Okubo and Daisuke Oka, Business News Department)