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Abe denies allegations in scandal-hit school chief’s sworn testimony

  • March 24, 2017
  • , Kyodo News
  • English Press

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied Friday that he or his wife Akie gave money or favorable treatment to an Osaka school operator at the center of a growing political scandal as alleged the previous day by the chief of the organization in sworn testimony before the Diet.


Opposition lawmakers argued that further investigation is needed into whether a government aide to Akie Abe was involved in the sale of a heavily discounted piece of state-owned land last year to the school operator, Moritomo Gakuen, which recently dropped its plan to open an elementary school on the site.


Yasunori Kagoike, head of Moritomo Gakuen, had produced under oath in the upper and lower house budget committees Thursday a document purporting to show that Akie Abe’s aide, Saeko Tani, made inquiries to the Finance Ministry about the plot of land in 2015 at his behest.


Kagoike also repeated his claim that Akie Abe gave him a donation of 1 million yen ($8,900) on the prime minister’s behalf for the purposes of building the elementary school.


Diet affairs chiefs from the Democratic Party, Japanese Communist Party, Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party agreed Friday to seek the summoning of Akie Abe and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui as further sworn witnesses.


But this would require the agreement of ruling coalition lawmakers, something the Abe administration’s top spokesman seemed to dismiss Friday.


“The prime minister is explaining (the situation) carefully,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference when asked about the oppositions’ plan.


Standing in the same room where Kagoike gave part of his testimony Thursday, Abe maintained on Friday that the content of the testimony had “made clear that there was no specific involvement by politicians in the sale of the state land or the accreditation of the elementary school.”


The prime minister’s office admitted Thursday that Tani had contacted the Finance Ministry for Kagoike about the plot of land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, which Moritomo Gakuen was leasing from the state at the time.


“The inquiry was asking what would happen (to the land lease) institutionally and legally, and there was no request, lobbying or of course any inappropriate press,” Abe insisted at a session of the upper house budget committee Friday.


“It’s extremely regrettable that (Kagoike) has made statements that go against the truth by reeling off a bunch of things that cannot be verified, such as the 1 million yen issue and talk of backroom dealings,” he said.


Abe continued to insist Friday that neither he nor his wife had any involvement in subsequent negotiations that ended with the stridently nationalist school operator buying the government land for 134 million yen — just 14 percent of its appraised value.


The price was lowered supposedly to account for the costs of removing buried garbage, but the murky deal, the school’s unusual acquisition of provisional accreditation from Osaka Prefecture, and past links between Kagoike and the Abes have fueled public scrutiny of the matter and eroded approval ratings for the Abe Cabinet.


Akie Abe refuted Kagoike’s testimony, including the donation claim, in a post on her personal Facebook page Thursday night.


The prime minister’s wife has documented links with Kagoike.


She was until recently named the honorary principal of the planned elementary school, and gave speeches at a Moritomo Gakuen kindergarten that was probed for suspected hate speech after parents of pupils were given pamphlets denigrating Chinese and Koreans.


Kagoike testified Thursday that a recent exchange of emails with Akie Abe via his wife, Junko Kagoike, could be interpreted as an attempt to silence him. The prime minister on Friday called this claim “malicious.”

Abe also expressed disappointment that Kagoike had not explained why the school gave three different amounts for construction costs on contracts it submitted to prefectural authorities and others.


Defense Minister Tomomi Inada on Friday played down her connection with Kagoike and also denied any involvement of her husband, who had been hired by Moritomo Gakuen as a lawyer, in the land purchase deal.


“I may have met Mr. Kagoike when he came to meet my husband at (our) office, but, anyway, we’re talking about something more than 10 years before — before I lost access with Mr. Kagoike,” she said in a statement released Friday.


Kagoike testified the day prior that Inada was among the lawyers who dealt with him at the office when her husband signed a contract to become a legal adviser for the school operator.


Inada reiterated that she has never been a legal adviser for Moritomo Gakuen and it was only her husband Ryuji Inada who had performed the role. Even the contract between her husband and the school operator ended around August 2009, she said.


Kagoike insisted Thursday that he sought advice from Ryuji Inada in January 2016 about the land, but Inada said her husband has denied being asked for consultations over the deal.


Inada initially denied her links to the operator but admitted last week that she represented Moritomo Gakuen as a lawyer at a civil case hearing in December 2004 before she became a lawmaker.


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