After denying the existence of relevant information on the sale of state property to a scandal-tainted Osaka school operator, the Finance Ministry released documents related to the negotiations in an about-face.

The reversal of the ministry’s stance may galvanize opposition lawmakers into renewing their attacks on the Abe administration over the suspected favoritism shown toward the operator, Moritomo Gakuen, during the ordinary Diet session, which opened on Jan. 22.

The ministry’s disclosure suggests that it did not fulfill its responsibility to be fully accountable over the Moritomo deal, in which state-owned land was sold to the school operator at a steep discount in 2016.

The ministry sold a tract of property in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, to Moritomo for 134 million yen ($1.21 million), far below its appraised value of 956 million yen, for a planned school.

The recent disclosure of the documents related to the sale came following a request made by Hiroshi Kamiwaki, a law professor at Kobe Gakuin University.

According to Kamiwaki, the disclosed documents concern inquiries made by an official at the ministry’s Kinki Local Finance Bureau in charge of negotiations on the sale of state land about the legal risks involved in the possible sale to Moritomo and replies by an official handling legal matters at the bureau.

The inquiries were made between March and May 2016.

The documents revealed details on how “new waste” was discovered underground on the site, which the ministry cited in discounting about 800 million yen in the land deal.

They also showed the school operator petitioned the ministry to “sell the land at an inexpensive price,” as well as the thought process of the official in the negotiations to reflect the existence of the trash in the selling price of the property.

In Diet debate last year, Nobuhisa Sagawa, who was then the director-general of the Finance Ministry’s Financial Bureau, which oversees the sale of state-owned land, repeatedly asserted that records on the sale negotiations had been “discarded.”

The documents recently disclosed are not records on the negotiations themselves, but documented details on the chain of events behind the negotiations and their content.

The disclosure followed Kamiwaki’s request for information on “reports and circulated memos that were produced within the organization in connection with the negotiations with Moritomo.”

The ministry had declined to present “documents on the content of the negotiations and interviews” to Kamiwaki’s previous request, saying they had been "discarded."

Asked about the discrepancy, a Kinki Local Finance Bureau official said there was no inconsistency in the ministry’s position.

“The documents we disclosed recently concern legal consultations within the bureau, and they are different from records on our responses concerning the negotiations (with Moritomo) and memos on our interviews,” the official said. “So, we are not aware of any contradiction in our explanation (in the Diet).”

The Kinki Local Finance Bureau replied that no memos existed when The Asahi Shimbun on Feb. 28, 2017, requested the disclosure of “documents, memos and other data describing the content of negotiations on the lease and sales of the state-owned land with Moritomo, as well as meetings.”

(This article was written by Sotaro Hata and Ryo Isshiki.)