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Okinawa Defense Bureau leaked tipoff that security firm inflated bills

The coastal Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, site of a U.S. Marine Corps air station now under construction, is seen on April 19, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The Defense Ministry's Okinawa Defense Bureau leaked the content of a tip it received from a whistleblower that a security company inflated bills for waterborne security around the construction site of a new U.S. military base in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, to the construction contractor, sources familiar with the case said.

The content of a document that the bureau handed to the contractor includes information that can help identify the whistleblower. The Defense Ministry has admitted that the practice is inappropriate from the viewpoint of protecting personal information.

Experts who are well-versed in whistleblowing have criticized the bureau for its lack of awareness of the need to protect the sources of tipoffs.

"The Defense Ministry made light of whistleblowing and lacks awareness of the need to protect its sources. It's outrageous to hand over a copy of a whistleblowing record, which is an administrative document. The practice also constitutes a breach of public servants' duty of confidentiality," said lawyer Koichi Kozen.

The Okinawa Defense Bureau placed an order for the construction of a substitute facility for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the prefectural city of Ginowan in June 2014.

Taisei Corp., which was awarded a contract for the construction of the base off the Henoko district of the prefectural city of Nago, commissioned a Tokyo-based security company to perform waterborne security work around the construction site.

The security company overcharged the general contractor for the work by approximately 700 million yen by padding the number of security guards engaged in the work and taking other measures.

However, the wrongdoing came to light after an insider tipped off the bureau about the overcharging, forcing the security company to return some 700 million yen to Taisei in March 2016.

The Mainichi Shimbun has recently obtained a copy of a document titled, "Record of telephone negotiations," compiled by the bureau.

According to the document, a whistleblower who identified himself as an employee of the security company phoned the Okinawa Defense Bureau on Jan. 4 and 5, 2016. The document quotes the caller as saying, "Seven security guards are supposed to ride in each boat but actually only five are aboard a vessel." An official of the bureau responded that it would "investigate the case." The name and the phone number of the caller were blacked out in the document.

The Defense Ministry admitted to the Mainichi Shimbun that the bureau had handed over a copy of the document to an employee at Taisei Corp. in charge of the construction work on Jan. 5, 2016. The document states that the whistleblower had worked for the security company for about 1 1/2 years and that he told his boss that he wanted to quit his job.

"By comparing what's written in the document with other relevant information, it's possible to identify the whistleblower. The bureau's practice was inappropriate," a ministry official said.

According to multiple other sources, the security company had also obtained a copy of the document by Jan. 7 of the same year and identified the whistleblower. After paying the informant a "reward," the worker was subsequently transferred out of Okinawa Prefecture, the sources said.

One of the sources told the Mainichi Shimbun, "The document was sent from the Defense Ministry. The whistleblower was transferred to prevent the individual from tipping off news organizations about the matter."

A Defense Ministry official said it has not confirmed that any bureau official has provided a copy of the document to the security firm. The company has also denied having received the document or transferring the whistleblower.

(By Nobuyuki Shimada, Shizuoka Bureau, and Yoshitake Matsuura, City News Department)

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