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Scandal-hit school operator lobbied LDP legislator's office 15 times over land acquisition

KOBE -- The head of a scandal-hit school corporation lobbied the office of ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) legislator Yoshitada Konoike 15 times between August 2013 and March 2016 over the organization's plan to open an elementary school now mired in controversy, it has been learned.

Konoike's office in Kobe in turn conveyed requests from Yasunori Kagoike, head of the Osaka-based school operator Moritomo Gakuen, to the government and mediated between them.

Kagoike apparently contacted aides to Konoike, a member of the House of Councillors, and asked them to urge the national government to agree to sell a state-owned land lot in the Osaka Prefecture city of Toyonaka to the corporation at an early date to open an elementary school there.

The Mainichi Shimbun has obtained a copy of lobbying records compiled by Konoike's office in Kobe. According to the records, a Hyogo Prefectural Assembly member close to Konoike, who formerly served as state minister for disaster management, visited the latter's office in Kobe on Aug. 5, 2013, and conveyed Moritomo Gakuen's intention to open an elementary school.

Kagoike subsequently began lobbying Konoike's office himself. Kagoike reported to the legislator's office the process of Moritomo Gakuen's negotiations with the Finance Ministry's Kinki Local Finance Bureau, which manages government assets, and the Osaka Prefectural Government, which is authorized to approve the establishment of schools in the prefecture. The school corporation head then asked Konoike's office for help in the negotiations.

At the time, Moritomo Gakuen was in talks with the local finance bureau and the prefectural government on the assumption that it would lease the state-owned land lot over a certain period and subsequently purchase the property.

The records quote Kagoike as telling Konoike's office on Oct. 12, 2013, "I'd like to ask you for cooperation so that a conclusion on the matter will be drawn at an early date through the use of political influence," and, "I'd like the appraised price of the land lot to be lowered."

Kagoike and others lobbied the legislator's office at least nine times in 2013 and on four occasions the following year, according to the records.

The records also indicate that Konoike's office scrambled to mediate between Kagoike and the government.

On Oct. 15, 2013, the Kinki Local Finance Bureau told to the legislator's office, "We remain positive about the matter. However, no progress can be made unless the corporation obtains permission from the Osaka Prefectural Government."

The following day, Kagoike told Konoike's office, "Acquisition of fundamental property (land) is a prerequisite for prefectural government approval. We need assurance from the central government over the land deal."

Later in the day, the legislator's office received notice from the local financial bureau, stating, "We can approve the (land) deal if the prefectural government confirms it since we're communicating with the prefecture."

An official in charge of the matter at Konoike's office admitted that the office compiled the records but denied that it did Moritomo Gakuen any favors.

"Since we were unable to ignore such a request for consultations, we phoned concerned government offices and asked them to respond to Mr. Kagoike's petition. We are neither in a position to negotiate with the government nor have any authority over the matter," the official told the Mainichi Shimbun.

In the meantime, a legal representative for Moritomo Gakuen disclosed on March 2 that Kagoike and his wife attempted to pass shopping coupons wrapped in paper to Konoike during their meeting about three years ago.

"They attempted to hand over the coupons as a consolation gift, as Mr. Konoike had been hospitalized, but he declined to accept it. I've heard that the coupons were worth 30,000 yen," the lawyer said.

The representative denied that the gift had anything to do with Moritomo Gakuen's purchase of the state-owned land lot.

Konoike told reporters on March 1 that he met with Kagoike and his wife at his office within the House of Councillors members' office building in Tokyo about three years ago.

The legislator explained that the couple attempted to hand something wrapped in paper to him but that he rejected it, adding that he did not know its content.

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