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Editorial: Gov't testimony on Moritomo Gakuen scandal coming unstitched

Far from coming to an end, suspicions over the heavily discounted sale of state-owned land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen have only deepened following proceedings in the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Nov. 28.

During proceedings it was pointed out that there exists audio footage which gives rise to suspicions that the Kinki Local Finance Bureau collaborated with the school operator regarding garbage buried on the site -- cited as a reason for the discount. The Finance Ministry's testimony on this was far from convincing.

The Moritomo Gakuen scandal reached a new stage recently with the Board of Audit of Japan's harsh judgment that there was little reason to warrant the discount.

Amid such developments, the government finally admitted that there exists an audio recording from May last year in which the Kinki Local Finance Bureau apparently said to Moritomo Gakuen that it would try to bring down the price of the state-owned land "as close to zero as possible." This recording also covers exchanges on the minimum price of the land. The Ministry of Finance also admitted the existence of audio data on a "secret arrangement" over the sale, which the Japanese Communist Party had pointed out.

National Tax Agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa, who was the Financial Bureau head at the time of the land sale, previously repeatedly testified in the Diet that the Financial Bureau had never presented Moritomo Gakuen with a specific price before the sale. His statements clearly contradict the evidence that has come to light.

The Ministry of Finance has now apologized, with one official saying, "I'm sorry if (past testimony) was taken to mean that there was absolutely no discussion of price." Yet the ministry maintains that the exchange that took place with Moritomo Gakuen was simply a statement of the ministry's position on the issue and that there was no actual price negotiation. One official went as far as to make the utterly incomprehensible statement, "We referred to an amount of money, but did not state a price."

To date, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has testified in the Diet that "the sale procedures and price were appropriate. On this point he stated, "I trust the Ministry of Finance," and added, "I never did my own research." This is an irresponsible attitude. The government should first retract its previous statements and admit the procedures and price were not appropriate.

The prime minister and other officials have stated that they seriously accept the position of the Board of Audit, and that amendments will be made where necessary. But in the Moritomo case, officials have not made it clear where the problem lies. There can be no clarification of the issue or improvements under such circumstances.

The Ministry of Finance has admitted that the Moritomo case is the only one over the past few years in which it did not publicly announce the contract price and in which it formed a fixed-term leasehold on the premise of a sale.

The essence of the problem is why such special exceptions were repeatedly made. It has become increasingly necessary for Sagawa and Prime Minister Abe's wife Akie, who temporarily served as honorary principal of the elementary school that was set to open on the state land in question, to be summoned to testify in the Diet.

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