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Finance Ministry auto-deletes emails after 60 days despite calls for reconsideration

The Finance Ministry sign in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward is seen in this June 2016 file photo. (Mainichi)

The Ministry of Finance automatically deletes official emails from its server 60 days after they are sent or received despite demands that the ministry review such a practice for later verification, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

According to sources close to the Finance Ministry, employees at the ministry are unable to access the received or sent emails after the email data is deleted automatically from the server. As for the reason emails are automatically deleted 60 days after their sent or received date, the ministry cited the limited storage capacity of its server to the Mainichi Shimbun. While the ministry says emails that are necessary are saved in an appropriate manner in accordance with the Public Records and Archives Management Act and other regulations, it has not revealed details about the practice such as when the auto-delete system was introduced.

During a meeting of the House of Councillors Financial Affairs Committee in May 2017, when the subject of the heavily discounted sale of state property to school operator Moritomo Gakuen was brought up, the Finance Ministry told the committee that it automatically deleted official emails 60 days after their received or sent date. Opposition Democratic Party member Yukihito Koga demanded that the ministry reconsider such a practice, touching on the example of a loan scandal that hit the government-backed Shoko Chukin Bank, where a probe into shady loans became difficult as the bank also auto-deleted emails. The Finance Ministry subsequently carried out an across-the-board update of its information system in June, but had not revealed whether it had re-examined the auto-delete practice.

Meanwhile, the Kinki Local Finance Bureau disclosed some of its official documents on Jan. 19 following the Mainichi Shimbun's freedom-of-information request. With regard to emails showing the process of negotiations over the state-owned land sale to the Moritomo group, the bureau, as well as the Finance Ministry, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and the latter ministry's Osaka Regional Civil Aviation Bureau insist that emails related to the sale either do not exist or could not be confirmed.

The Finance Ministry had explained at the Diet that emails deemed necessary were being kept as hard copies, but the Board of Audit of Japan which investigated the land sale scandal involving the school operator reported last year that the legitimacy of the accounting could not be sufficiently verified with documents kept at the ministry alone.

In the meantime, the 11 main government bodies besides the finance and land ministries told the Mainichi Shimbun that they do not auto-delete emails nor do they have plans to do so, revealing varied rules regarding the handling of emails within the government.

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