Board Of Audit Begins Probe Of Land Sale

Board of Audit begins probe of land saleJapan's Board of Audit has begun investigating the controversial sale of state-owned land to a private school operator for much less than its appraised value.
Board director Teruhiko Kawato told an Upper House meeting on Thursday that it is important to firmly establish the facts, and that the board has already started collecting information.

Kawato said they will look into whether the land in Osaka Prefecture was legally sold to school operator Moritomo Gakuen last year.

He also said they will investigate whether the government has properly retained relevant documentation.

The Finance Ministry was in charge of the sale. Its officials have said they've already discarded the records of their meetings prior to the sale with Moritomo Gakuen.

At the Diet meeting, the head of the ministry's bureau that handles the sale of state-owned land said they often get inquiries from various people whenever a sale is planned. He said it's possible some politicians asked about the Osaka sale.

In a related move, a secretary to ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Yoshitada Konoike told NHK that he was in contact with Moritomo Gakuen President Yasunori Kagoike about the land. But he denied helping Kagoike buy the land at a bargain price.

A copy of a report documenting Kagoike's attempts to seek the veteran lawmaker's help in the transaction was revealed by an opposition legislator at a Diet meeting earlier this week.

The lawmaker's secretary admitted to NHK that he had written the report. He said Kagoike made 14 phone calls and visited the LDP lawmaker's office once, to ask about sale procedures.

The secretary said he later made 8 phone calls to the Osaka offices of the Finance Ministry and another ministry to ask procedural and legal questions.

But he said when he was asked about ways to lower the price, he told the Moritomo president to do the negotiating himself, as he is not a real estate broker.

The secretary added he also turned down Kagoike's request to mediate a meeting with the Finance Ministry officials in charge.