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Financial bureau head admits official asked Moritomo to lie about reason for land discount

Finance Ministry Financial Bureau head Mitsuru Ota speaks during a House of Councillors Audit Committee meeting on April 9, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Finance Ministry Financial Bureau head Mitsuru Ota revealed in April 9 testimony to the House of Councillors Audit Committee that a bureau official asked school operator Moritomo Gakuen to lie about details of the heavily discounted sale of state land to the school corporation.

The some 800 million yen (about $7.48 million) discount was granted to Moritomo ostensibly due to the cost of cleaning up garbage buried on the property in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture.

However, according to Ota, in February last year a Financial Bureau worker telephoned a lawyer for Moritomo and asked, "How about saying something like, you think the cleanup work was fairly costly, and that it took so many thousand dump truck trips (to remove the garbage)?"

"It was absolutely wrong to ask Moritomo Gakuen to provide an inaccurate explanation. I'm truly embarrassed and offer a deep apology," Ota said. He added that the attorney apparently did not act based on the content of the phone call.

Public broadcaster NHK reported on April 4 suspicions that the Financial Bureau had demanded Moritomo coordinate its story about the buried garbage with the bureau, prompting ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker Shoji Nishida to raise the issue at the audit committee.

In February last year, opposition party members cast doubt on whether the buried trash had even been cleaned up. At a Feb. 20, 2017 House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting, then Financial Bureau head Nobuhisa Sagawa responded by telling legislators, "Garbage buried on the property was removed in an appropriate way. This has been confirmed by the Kinki Local Finance Bureau," which was in charge of the Moritomo deal. The Financial Bureau apparently asked Moritomo to conspire on the garbage removal explanation that same day.

Ota said on April 9, "The comments (Sagawa) made could easily be misconstrued, so the Financial Bureau official did that (called the Moritomo attorney) to try to ensure consistency."

The Finance Ministry is continuing its internal investigation into alterations and deletions to official documents regarding the land sale to the nationalist school operator. On when the results of that investigation would be released, Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso stated, "This issue involves disciplinary measures for (ministry) employees, so it must be treated carefully."

(Japanese original by Shusaku Sugimoto, City News Department, and Yusuke Matsukura, Political News Department)

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