Yasunori Kagoike, chief of an Osaka-based private school operator, gave important testimony in the Diet that raised suspicion on the role that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, Akie, played in the dubious sale of state-owned land to his organization.
Kagoike’s sworn testimony on March 23 about the scandal, given before the budget committees of both houses, contradicts Abe’s remarks that have categorically denied his or his wife’s involvement in the land sale at a deeply discounted price.
To uncover the truth, the first lady should be summoned to testify before the Diet to answer questions raised by Kagoike’s allegations, amid the growing scandal with potentially huge political implications.
Kagoike said he sought help from Abe’s wife to have the conditions for the sale of the government’s land relaxed. In June last year, his organization, Moritomo Gakuen, purchased the state-owned land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, for just 14 percent of its appraised value.
According to what Kagoike told the Diet, he called Akie on her mobile phone in October 2015 for help and left a voice message when there was no answer.
In the following month, he received a fax from a government employee assigned to Akie that said his request had been conveyed to a section chief at the Finance Ministry. The fax, citing the section chief’s answer, said, “Regrettably, we are unable to do anything along the lines of your request in the current situation,” according to Kagoike.
If this is true, Akie conveyed Kagoike’s request to someone and had the government employee assigned to her respond to it.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga admitted the fax was sent to Kagoike and claimed it was simply a reply to an inquiry.
If the first lady did take specific action in response to Kagoike’s request related to the sale of a state property, we should say she was involved in the matter in a certain way.
The government has described Akie as a “private citizen” and stressed that she had nothing to do with the land deal or approval for the elementary school Kagoike planned to open on the land purchased from the Finance Ministry’s Kinki Local Finance Bureau.
But there is no doubt that Akie is a public figure and has the responsibility to answer questions raised.
As for the 1 million yen donation Kagoike claims he received from the first lady, he said, “she brought out an envelope (containing the money) from her bag.”
Since she made the government employees accompanying her leave the room, Kagoike received the money from her without anyone else present, according to his testimony.
What he said is totally at odds with the prime minister’s denial of making such a donation to him.
There is no guarantee, of course, that he told the truth.
To clear up the facts, it is essential for Akie herself to testify in public.
Abe should also fulfill his own responsibility to answer related questions. The prime minister has gone so far as to say in the Diet, “I will resign not only as prime minister, but also as a Diet member if it turns out I or my wife was involved in the land deal or approval (for Moritomo Gakuen’s elementary school).”
If so, he needs to offer convincing answers to questions about Akie’s actions, the fax and other related issues.
The Upper House Budget Committee will on March 24 summon two key officials to testify over the matter as unsworn witnesses–Hidenori Sakota, commissioner of the National Tax Agency, who was director-general of the Finance Ministry’s Financial Bureau when the negotiations on the land sale were being held, and Yoshiki Takeuchi, director-general of the ministry’s International Bureau, who headed the Kinki Local Finance Bureau at the time of the land sale.
Kagoike also cited the names of several politicians during his March 23 appearance at the Diet. Many questions also remain unanswered as to how the finance and land ministries responded to his request.
The two officials, who were in positions to know what occurred back then, should give clear answers to these and other questions.
Kagoike refused to speak about allegations that he received state subsidies through a fraudulent means, citing the possibility of facing “criminal prosecution.” The efforts to uncover the whole picture of the scandal have barely begun.