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Gov't ordered to pay damages for initial failure to reveal Moritomo Gakuen land price

Plaintiff Makoto Kimura, right, is seen holding up a sign reading "victory" after the ruling outside of Osaka District Court, in Kita Ward, Osaka, on May 30, 2019. A man holding up a sign saying "unjust decision" can be seen standing next to him. (Mainichi/Kenji Konoha)

OSAKA -- The government has been ordered to compensate an assemblyman who sued for damages over its initial failure to announce the price of state land sold to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen.

The Osaka District Court ordered the government to pay 33,000 yen (about $300) in compensation to Toyonaka Municipal Assembly member Makoto Kimura for not disclosing the sale price in the period following the sale.

Presiding Judge Eiji Matsunaga stated, "It was information that should have been disclosed, and the haphazard decision not to disclose it was against the law."

Kimura's suit caused a favoritism scandal involving Moritomo Gakuen to surface in public. The school operator, which had ties with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife Akie, was revealed to have received a discount of hundreds of millions of yen when purchasing a government land plot.

The Osaka District Court in March 2019 ordered the payment of damages over the government's failure to disclose the name of an elementary school the corporation had planned to open in a ruling that subsequently became fixed, and there has been a succession of decisions that the government acted illegally in its stance not to publicize information relating to the land's sale.

However, the government was judged to have not exceeded the bounds of the law when deciding not to disclose its description on underground waste being the justification for the discount of approximately 800 million yen (about $7.35 million). The municipal assembly member accordingly plans to file an appeal against the latest ruling.

Kimura, who is an assemblyman for the city of Toyonaka where the state land is located, requested public disclosure of the sale contract in September 2016. However, the documents published by the Ministry of Finance's Kinki Local Finance Bureau were distributed with the land price and reasons for the discount blacked out. When Kimura then filed a suit for the information in February 2017, the government reversed its position and released the figure and the reasons for the discount. Kimura then altered his suit on the grounds that he had suffered mental distress, seeking damages of 110,000 yen (about $1,000).

The court noted that between fiscal years 2013 and 2016 there had been 104 cases of uncontested sales of state land, but of those only the Moritomo Gakuen sale price was not released to the public. The government responded that it was feared the announcement of the low price could give rise to concerns it could damage the school's profits. The court didn't accept the explanation, saying the logic it provided was vague and insufficient grounds to withhold the figures.

However, the nondisclosure of information which stated that waste had been buried on the site was not ruled unlawful, on the grounds that disclosure could harm the school operator's profits.

The Ministry of Finance said "We will respond to the judgment after discussing the matter with related ministries."

(Japanese original by Masayuki Takashima and Shiho Matsumoto, Osaka City News Department)

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