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Editorial: Court ruling a reminder Japan gov't still hasn't answered for Moritomo scandal

The Osaka District Court has ruled that the central government's failure to disclose all documents related to the cut-rate sale of public land to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen in a timely manner was illegal.

The documents in question are the papers and emails written by staff at the Kinki Local Finance Bureau -- the regional office of the Finance Ministry -- during the negotiation process with Moritomo Gakuen over the land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, western Japan. When the issue came to light, at first the government denied requests for the records, saying there were none regarding the negotiations. The government would U-turn later down the road, releasing 217 documents related to the sale.

Of special note in the recent ruling is the conclusion that the Kinki Local Finance Bureau "deliberately treated the materials as though they did not exist," and that this "corresponds to intent to commit an illegal act."

Courts have ruled the government's actions illegal in two other lawsuits over the Moritomo Gakuen documents. The most recent, however, is the first to clearly conclude that the Japanese state had "intent" to hide information.

The Osaka District Court also addressed the point that some of the Moritomo Gakuen land deal documents were destroyed, and its conclusions cannot be overlooked. On this issue, the court ruled that government officials had deliberately destroyed documents to reduce the volume of materials related to questions being asked in the Diet. Furthermore, the court stated the government's "inappropriate actions can be called contrary to the very principle of the sovereignty of the people." The ruling added, "It must be said that (the government's deeds) are equivalent to malicious behavior." The Japanese government must take the ruling's words to heart.

It remains unclear exactly why the Kinki Local Finance Bureau sold the Toyonaka plot of land to Moritomo Gakuen for some 800 million yen (about $7.4 million) less than its list value. It emerged that official documents related to the sale had also been doctored, because, it is said, the deal was being scrutinized by Diet lawmakers. The root reason, however, has yet to be exposed.

A Kinki Local Finance Bureau official ordered to take part in the document falsification later took his own life. His widow, seeking to reveal the reasons for her husband's suicide and the events that led up to it, collected some 350,000 signatures for an online petition demanding a third-party inquest into the Moritomo Gakuen scandal and submitted it to the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso's unbending attitude was on full display at the time, as he stated that a thorough investigation had already been done and officials involved reprimanded, and that there was therefore no need for the matter to be investigated further. However, the Finance Ministry internal probe he was referring to never got to the heart of the scandal.

The Osaka District Court ruling has brought the depth of the Moritomo Gakuen land sale scandal into stark relief. As long as the government refuses to reinvestigate what transpired, it cannot hope to regain the trust of the Japanese people.

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