March 19, 2017 7:00 pm JST

Tokyo Gas suggested backdoor talks for new fish market: ex-official

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A former Tokyo deputy governor said Sunday that Tokyo Gas Co. suggested backdoor negotiations on the sale of contaminated land for a new Tokyo fish market.

The remark by Takeo Hamauzu, 69, contradicts the Tokyo government's official records that state Hamauzu in October 2000 sounded out Tokyo Gas, the owner of the land at the time, about holding secret talks on the sale.

The Tokyo government's main negotiator for the purchase of land to replace the aging Tsukiji fish market told a powerful committee of the Tokyo metropolitan assembly looking into the controversial relocation plan that the gas company had used the term "behind closed doors."

Among several potential relocation sites, the city government selected the land in the Toyosu waterfront area that was formerly used as a gas production site, reaching a basic agreement on the relocation plan in July 2001.

However, Yuriko Koike, upon becoming Tokyo governor last August, decided to postpone the planned November 2016 relocation of the market, which also deals in fruit and vegetables, amid lingering concerns about soil and air pollution at the new site.

Tokyo Gas was initially reluctant to sell the land to the Tokyo government as it thought the former gas production site would not be appropriate for a market. But according to the government records, Hamauzu approached the company and began secret talks on the land deal.

Hamauzu, close aide of then-Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, told the committee that as the gas company was originally considering using the land for a different development project, he thought the company wanted to discuss the land sale to the Tokyo government quietly as an abrupt change in the plan for the use of the Toyosu site could cause disruption.

"Since negotiations usually do not go well without taking into account a partner's demand, I said, 'We are fine to talk about it behind closed doors,'" Hamauzu told the committee.

Ishihara will appear before the committee Monday.

The metropolitan government said the same day benzene at up to 100 times the government-set safety limit had been detected in groundwater samples taken at the Toyosu site, higher than the benzene level of 79 times the allowable limit from Tokyo's ninth test results announced in January.

Kohei Urano, emeritus professor at Yokohama National University, said while benzene at 79 times or even 100 times the safety limit would pose little danger to health unless the groundwater was used at the market or to drink, it might still arouse public concern about food handling at the market.

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