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Contractor says garbage report linked to Moritomo land sale 'falsified': sources

This photo shows test drilling on state property where garbage was purportedly buried at a depth of 3.8 meters. (Photo courtesy of a source concerned)

A contractor's report on garbage buried on state-owned land set to be sold to private school operator Moritomo Gakuen was falsified under pressure from Moritomo and the local Finance Ministry bureau, investigative sources have quoted the firm as telling public prosecutors.

The contractor, which did test drilling on the property ahead of the heavily discounted sale, has reportedly told the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office that the firm created a report stating that the garbage was buried deeper than it actually was.

The buried garbage was cited as a reason for granting Moritomo -- which was connected to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife Akie -- an approximately 800 million yen discount for the plot in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture. If the contractor's testimony to prosecutors proves true, it could undermine the basis for the massive discount, and the prosecutors' office is apparently taking extreme care to verify the facts.

The special investigation unit of the Osaka prosecutors' office has received a complaint accusing employees at the Finance Ministry's Kinki Local Finance Bureau of breach of trust for selling the government land at an unreasonably cheap price, and is investigating the matter.

According to the investigative sources, the contractor admitted that the descriptions in its report that garbage was buried up to 3.8 meters underground was an exaggeration, and told prosecutors that the firm "was forced to write something that wasn't true" and that "we had no choice but to write what we were told to." The contractor testified that the false reports were made at the urging of Moritomo Gakuen and the Kinki Local Finance Bureau, which was handling the land deal.

In May 2015, Moritomo Gakuen signed a land lease contract with the central government to build an elementary school on the state property in Toyonaka. In March 2016, the school operator claimed that "new garbage" had been found during piling work to a depth of 9.9 meters and demanded a government response. The government subsequently decided to sell the property at a price reflecting the cost of removing the garbage, and asked the school corporation to submit documents regarding the waste.

The school operator filed a report with photos to the government on April 11, 2016. The report stated that test drilling at eight spots on the property had revealed garbage at a depth of up to 3.8 meters. Three days later, based on the Moritomo Gakuen report and other factors, the government calculated the waste removal costs at around 820 million yen. On June 20 that year, the government sold the land to the school operator for 134 million yen, after deducting the waste removal cost from the appraised value.

Around that time, Moritomo Gakuen was pressuring the government to respond immediately to the waste problem, saying that it was planning to open the elementary school in April 2017, and suggested it would demand damages if no action was taken.

The Finance Ministry and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism later explained in the Diet that on April 5, 2016, they photographically confirmed garbage buried on the site at a depth of up to 3.8 meters.

In an audio recording of what is believed to be a March 30, 2016 conversation between the government and the school operator, a Moritomo Gakuen official can be heard saying, "Not much garbage turned up in the soil deeper than 3 meters." A government official responds, "We can say the waste is mixed (in with the soil) as far as 9 meters deep." The talks suggest that the government and the school corporation colluded to adjust their story about the depth of the buried waste.

In a report released in November last year, the Board of Audit of Japan pointed out that the stated depth of 3.8 meters could not be verified from the photos included in the contractor's report.

Meanwhile, the contractor had estimated that the garbage removal cost would be somewhere around 960 million yen, as it was necessary to remove contaminated soil around the garbage as well. The contractor has revealed the estimate to prosecutors.

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