Photo/IllutrationMoritomo Gakuen had planned to open an elementary school in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

A Finance Ministry official confirmed that a price range was offered to a school operator in negotiations for state-owned land, directly contradicting the ministry’s stance in the scandal over the eventual sale.

The official told the Diet on Dec. 6 that the ministry’s Kinki Local Finance Bureau and Moritomo Gakuen in March 2016 agreed that the sales price would be between about 132 million yen ($1.2 million) and 160 million yen for the 8,770 square meters of state-owned land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture.

Three months after that meeting, the bureau sold the land to the school operator for 134 million yen.

A different official previously said the ministry had never discussed a sales price with Moritomo Gakuen before the value of the land was appraised at 956 million yen in May 2016.

In principle, sales prices of state-owned land must be based on their appraised value.

At a Lower House land committee session on Dec. 6, Hiroyuki Moriyama, a member of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, questioned Kazunari Toyama, deputy director-general of the ministry’s Financial Bureau, about the negotiations.

Citing a Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) report in August this year, Moriyama asked, “Is it true that the finance bureau and Moritomo Gakuen held negotiations on March 24, 2016, and confirmed they would reach an agreement if the sales price was in the range of between about 132 million yen and 160 million yen?”

Toyama responded: “It is a fact.”

The Asahi Shimbun in August also reported details of that meeting.

According to Asahi interviews with sources close to Moritomo Gakuen, a finance bureau official asked a lawyer who was representing the school operator, “What’s the maximum price you can pay for the land?”

The bureau official also mentioned that the government had covered 132 million yen in costs in 2015 to remove garbage that was buried in the land.

“The sales price will not become cheaper than that,” the official said.

The Moritomo Gakuen side replied, “We can pay up to 160 million yen.”

Before that meeting, Moritomo Gakuen told the finance bureau on March 11, 2016, that additional garbage had been found in the ground.

Four days later, Yasunori Kagoike, then director of Moritomo Gakuen, held talks with a high-ranking official of the Financial Bureau at the ministry’s head office in Tokyo.

Kagoike asked the official to deal with the additional garbage issue. Kagoike also dropped the name of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, Akie, who was scheduled to serve as an honorary principal of a private elementary school to be constructed on the land.

Those talks led to the March 24 meeting, where Moritomo Gakuen, through the lawyer, told the finance bureau that it wanted to buy the land.

In late May 2016, a real-estate appraiser valued the land at 956 million yen.

The following month, the bureau sold the land to Moritomo Gakuen for 134 million yen after slashing the additional garbage-removal costs of 820 million yen and other expenses from the appraised value.

Opposition lawmakers argue that Moritomo Gakuen’s connection with the first lady was behind the steep discount offered by the ministry.

In a report submitted to the Diet on Nov. 22, the Board of Audit said the basis for calculating the estimated volume of garbage on the land that led to the drastic discount was insufficient.