Having repeatedly insisted in the Diet that pertinent records had been trashed, the Finance Ministry has disclosed internal documents concerning negotiations over the sale of state-owned land to Osaka-based school operator Moritomo Gakuen.

The documents released by the ministry’s Kinki Local Finance Bureau consist of "legal consultation sheets" and "records of consultations" prepared between March and May 2016. Their release followed a request for information disclosure by a university professor.

The documents show that bureau officials in charge of the land transaction consulted the bureau's legal affairs experts about possible legal problems.

According to the documents, Moritomo informed the bureau in March 2016 it had discovered "more trash buried underground" to shore up its request to "purchase the land cheaply." They also make clear that the government tried to reflect the cost of trash removal on the selling price.

The documents prove the government considered adjusting the price prior to selling the land. Why the government did not disclose these documents, including the content of negotiations, until now is beyond our comprehension.

"Already discarded" was the Finance Bureau's response to a request for documents on "the content of meetings and negotiations with Moritomo."

The bureau said it released the documents because the information disclosure request was for "the bureau's internal reports and circulars prepared in connection with negotiations."

The bureau explains that these are "internal legal consultation records and not records of meetings (with Moritomo)." Its argument, in other words, is that since they are not records of exchanges per se, they are not records of meetings.

Who would ever buy this sophistry? All it proves is that the Finance Ministry ignored the public's right to know, when it was its responsibility to dislose records and initiate an investigation.

What is incredible is that the ministry never revealed the existence of these documents during Diet sessions on the issue last year.

Nobuhisa Sagawa, director-general of the Finance Ministry’s Financial Bureau at the time, maintained that records of negotiations were discarded upon the conclusion of the transaction. Based on his explanation, the government responded to all questions in the Diet on the premise that no records of negotiations existed.

But the latest disclosure contradicts Sagawa's avowal of no price negotiations prior to the sale. Even when opposition parties produced audio records, the Finance Ministry repeated an inane excuse that the exchanges were about "kingaku" (the amount of money) and not "kakaku" (the price).

Had the latest disclosure been made much earlier, it could well have helped cast some light on what really transpired.

Public suspicions have remained because a proper explanation is not offered for the massive 800 million yen ($7 million) discount in the sale price.

So long as the government remains reluctant to part with new information, suspicions are bound to grow.

Have all the pertinent documents been truly "discarded"? The Abe Cabinet must initiate a new investigation of the Finance Ministry and related departments and disclose its findings.

If the government has no reason or intention to keep hiding anything, then the Diet is the venue for arguing its case fair and square.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 24