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Records of negotiations on shady land sale discarded: Finance Ministry official

Records of negotiations on the massively discounted sale of state-owned land to the operator of a school espousing nationalistic ideology have been discarded, a Finance Ministry official has revealed.

At a House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting on Feb. 24, lawmaker Takeshi Miyamoto of the opposition Japanese Communist Party presented the results of a probe he conducted on the case. His investigation found that senior bureau officials and representatives from school operator Moritomo Gakuen met in a conference room on the 9th floor of the Finance Ministry's Kinki Local Finance Bureau from 10 a.m. to noon on Sept. 4, 2015, and discussed the specific costs of removing waste that was found buried underground on the state-owned lot in the Osaka Prefecture city of Toyonaka that the school operator wanted to acquire.

Financial Bureau Director-General Nobuhisa Sagawa of the Finance Ministry stated, "In general, various meetings are conducted before signing a negotiated contract," avoiding comment on whether the Sept. 4, 2015 meeting took place. He also told the lower house budget committee, "There were no records of negotiations between the Kinki Local Finance Bureau and Moritomo Gakuen."

According to the Finance Ministry's guidelines on the management of administrative documents, the storage period for records of meetings is under a year, and the records are discarded once a case is closed.

"Since the case ended when the sales contract was concluded in June 2016, there are no records left," Sagawa explained. The school is set to open in April.

At the same lower house budget committee meeting on Feb. 24, opposition Democratic Party (DP) lawmaker Yuichiro Tamaki once again asked Sagawa whether trash that had been dug up from the land lot had been reburied, based on testimony he'd obtained from a construction worker who worked on the lot. Sagawa responded, "Under contract, we are not obligated to confirm that."

According to Tamaki, the construction worker worked on the lot for approximately two weeks between November and December last year. The worker said that of the 2,000 cubic meters or so of contaminated soil that was dug up, only around half was removed from the lot, and the rest was buried under the area planned for the school playground.

The worker told the Mainichi Shimbun that soil mixed with garbage was piled high on the construction site, and that workers were instructed by the party that commissioned the work to dig a hole on the grounds and bury the soil and garbage. The garbage included items such as empty containers of soy sauce and mayonnaise, shoes and clothes. The worker also told the Mainichi that there was an unpleasant, ammonia-like odor coming from the soil, preventing the worker from being able to eat near the site.

Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui indicated on Feb. 24 that he would ask the Toyonaka Municipal Government, which has jurisdiction over the school lot, to confirm whether the treatment of soil and garbage and other procedures related to the construction of the school was appropriate. Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that he saw no problem in the way in which the Kinki Local Finance Bureau handled the case, saying, "The case would require a review if there had been significant harm, but there was no such thing."

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