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Editorial: In spite of guilty verdict, heart of Moritomo scandal left unaddressed

The Osaka District Court has found Yasunori Kagoike, the former head of school operator Moritomo Gakuen, and his wife Junko guilty of defrauding the central government and other parties of some 170 million yen in subsidies. The ruling described the tactics of Kagoike and his wife as "devious and bold."

Suspicions stemming from the case, however, remain unraveled, and the heart of the issue has been abandoned.

The essence of the Moritomo scandal lies in the murky, discounted sale of state land for the construction of an elementary school -- and the truth behind this has yet to be unraveled.

It was revealed that the Ministry of Finance discounted the price of the land, which had been valued at 956 million yen, by around 800 million yen when selling it to Moritomo Gakuen. In giving a reason for the huge discount, the ministry cited the cost of removing garbage buried at the site. Yet it has not been confirmed if there was actually a large amount of garbage there.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife Akie at one point took on the role of honorary principal of the elementary school. It was suggested that officials had taken this into consideration when offering the discount -- triggering accusations of favoritism.

In February 2017, after the discount came to light, Prime Minister Abe stated in the Diet that if either he or his wife were found to be involved in the transaction, then he would step down.

Following these comments, it later came to light that the Ministry of Finance destroyed negotiation records on the transaction with Moritomo Gakuen and doctored documentation sanctioning the sale of the state land.

The Moritomo scandal brought into sharp relief the special considerations made toward politicians and the warped state of politics and government bodies in connection with the administration of public records.

On the heels of the Moritomo scandal, another scandal erupted over the establishment of a new veterinary school by Kake Educational Institution. When documents that were inconvenient for the administration emerged, it labeled them as "dubious."

More recently, bureaucrats shredded documents relating to a controversial cherry blossom-viewing party hosted by Abe immediately after the opposition camp asked for them.

Public records are the people's shared assets, enabling them to determine whether the administration is being conducted in a fair and just manner. If bureaucrats are making light of public documents as they gauge the feelings of politicians and go out of their way to make their stories make sense, then they are going about things completely the wrong way.

It was the Moritomo scandal that first triggered major debate over the administration of public documents. Unless light is shed on the core of that scandal, then the hotbed of politics that places utmost attention to how those in authority might feel will probably never vanish.

Unless such suspicions are cleared away, the public's sense of distrust cannot be removed. The political responsibility for this is heavy.

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