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Deleted parts of Finance Ministry docs suggest special consideration paid to Moritomo deal

A portion of a Finance Ministry document on the land deal with Moritomo Gakuen is seen. The part that mentions Akie Abe's name has been deleted in the altered version. (Mainichi)

The report from the Finance Ministry's in-house investigation over the doctoring of documents regarding the heavily discounted sale of state-owned land to a school operator with ties to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife further strengthen the possibility that bureaucrats surmised the intentions of those involved in the deal, which has been the key point surrounding the favoritism scandal since it surfaced last year.

The Finance Ministry submitted the 78-page report to the Diet on March 12, admitting altering the documents pertaining to the land sale to Moritomo Gakuen, including the removal of passages and the names of Abe's wife Akie as well as several politicians.

"This is extremely serious," Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso told reporters on the afternoon of March 12, as he admitted that the ministry "rewrote" the documents.

Five documents finalizing the lease and sale of the land lot in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, which had been submitted to the Diet and other related bodies in May last year or later, as well as nine attached documents, have been doctored. They were compiled in a period between June 2014 and June 2016, and were altered after the land deal scandal was brought up in the Diet in February 2017.

In a timeline attached to the document titled, "Special procedures regarding the lease of ordinary public property," which was created before the lease deal was signed in May 2015, the name of Akie Abe appears, but the passage where her name is mentioned has been removed in the altered version. The original timeline said then Moritomo Gakuen Chairman Yasunori Kagoike told a Kinki Local Finance Bureau official at a meeting in April 2014 that he had visited the site in Toyonaka with Akie. The document stated that Kagoike "showed a photo" of the visit at the meeting.

The original timeline also mentioned an online news article published in January 2015, which reported on Akie's visit to Moritomo and said she "was moved to tears by the operator's policy on education." Under ordinary circumstances, these developments should not directly have anything to do with a government land lease contract.

In addition, the timeline included the names of several politicians who had contacted the Finance Ministry when Moritomo and the ministry were negotiating the lease deal. According to the document, in January 2015, a secretary of former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma contacted the Finance Ministry, saying that the lease price of the land that had been presented to Moritomo by the Kinki bureau was very high and asked the ministry "if there was something that could be done." Furthermore, the document said a secretary of former Internal Affairs and Communication Minister Kunio Hatoyama visited the Kinki bureau in February 2015, asking for a discount over the lease. It also stated that this deal was "petitioned by House of Councillors member Yoshitada Konoike to the Kinki Local Finance Bureau" and that Moritomo had requested to the private secretary of Issei Kitagawa, then state minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, for a meeting with the state minister.

In an attached document called "general outline of Moritomo Gakuen," it was mentioned that Kagoike served as the representative of Japan Conference Osaka, the regional branch of the conservative group Nippon Kaigi, while Deputy Prime Minister Aso assumed the position as a special adviser to the Japan Conference's council of national lawmakers and Abe served as the council's vice chairman.

Such descriptions suggesting that the land deal had been a "political matter" have all been deleted in the altered documents.

Meanwhile, deleted portions of the documents included contents that contradict with testimony given by Nobuhisa Sagawa, who was serving as Financial Bureau chief when the Moritomo scandal was discussed in the Diet and who recently resigned as National Tax Agency head to take responsibility over the scandal.

The state finalized a deal to sell the land lot to Moritomo Gakuen in June 2016 after additional waste was discovered buried underground at the site in March that year, which followed the conclusion of the lease contract. Sagawa told a House of Representatives Financial Affairs Committee meeting on March 15, 2017, about negotiations with Moritomo up until the sale contract was concluded and said that the ministry had never presented the price for the land (before the figure was finalized) and that Moritomo had never offered the price at which the school operator wished to purchase the property.

The deleted parts of the document regarding the sale of the land, however, included passages stating that household waste has been discovered at the lot, which "would interfere with the construction of a school building." They also included exchanges between Moritomo and the Financial Bureau, during which the school operator said it "wished to purchase the land if the price based on the appraisal of the current condition is available" and that the state would not compensate for damages if Moritomo accepts the proposed price. The part that stated "A realistic option to solve the problem would be to proceed (with the deal) according to the school operator's suggestion" and other portions that could be interpreted as price negotiations were all deleted.

Furthermore, several parts that mentioned about the "exceptional" nature of the lease contract have been erased. The reference to the exceptional nature could be understood as pointing to the special lease contract under which the state would sell the property to the school operator after 10 years, but such a description was deleted possibly because Finance Ministry bureaucrats feared that it could be taken by opposition forces as the ministry giving special treatment to Moritomo.

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