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Editorial: Abe government dodging core questions in school scandal

  • April 3, 2017
  • , The Asahi Shimbun
  • English Press

The ruling camp appears to be trying hard to make it look as if Yasunori Kagoike, head of Osaka-based school operator Moritomo Gakuen, is the only person who should be held accountable for the questionable sale of state-owned land to his organization.

 

Members of the government and the ruling coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party have indicated the possibility of bringing perjury charges against Kagoike, who last month testified as a sworn witness before the Diet over the land sale at a deeply discounted price and related issues.

But such an action should be considered only after the many important questions raised by his remarks are settled.

 

Testifying before the budget committees of both houses on March 23, Kagoike said he received a donation of 1 million yen ($8,980) from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe through Abe’s wife, Akie.

 

“She gave me 1 million yen in an envelope and said, ‘This is from Shinzo Abe,’” Kagoike said.

 

It is not clear whether Kagoike told the truth, and Abe and other top administration officials have vehemently denied his allegations.

But Kagoike made the remarks under oath, fully aware that he would be charged with perjury if he made false statements.

 

Since there are grave inconsistencies in what both sides have said, the Diet has a duty to make serious efforts to get to the bottom of the scandal and clear up the truth.

 

It is vital for the Diet to exercise its constitutional right to investigate state affairs to summon other people involved to testify before the Diet and require the Finance Ministry and other government organizations involved to submit related records and documents. The Finance Ministry has said the records of negotiations over the land sale have been discarded.

 

The ruling camp, however, has rejected opposition calls for summoning other key figures and also refused to have the organizations submit the relevant records. Answering questions related to the scandal, Abe spurned a call for summoning his wife for Diet testimony, saying, “It is unnecessary.”

 

Instead of trying to uncover the truth, ruling party lawmakers have made a series of threatening remarks aimed at Kagoike.

 

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, when asked if there is any prospect of a criminal complaint being filed against Kagoike for violating the Parliamentary Testimony Law, said, “We will do so if we ascertain that Kagoike’s testimony differed from the truth.”

 

“We are now scrutinizing the contents of his testimony,” he added.

But it is the Diet, not the government, which has the right to lodge such an accusation. What Suga said is at odds with the principle of the separation of powers.

 

Initially, the LDP was reluctant to summon Kagoike for testimony over the matter.

 

After Kagoike on March 16 told a visiting delegation of Upper House Budget Committee members that he had received a donation of 1 million yen from Abe through the first lady, however, the ruling party drastically changed its stance and agreed to summon him, denouncing his claim as “an insult to the prime minister.”

 

Now, the ruling camp is threatening to file a criminal complaint against the person at the center of the scandal.

 

The ruling camp’s attitude deserves to be criticized as an attempt to intimidate possible political enemies by implicitly warning that they have to face dire consequences if they take any hostile action against the prime minister.

 

Some LDP members are seeking to have the Diet exercise its investigative authority to collect evidence for perjury charges against Kagoike.

 

They say the probe should focus on the veracity of Kagoike’s statements concerning the procedures for depositing the 1 million yen, which he claimed was donated by Abe, into Moritomo Gakuen’s postal savings account.

But this is not an issue that is at the core of the scandal.

 

The crux of the matter is the fact that a plot of government-owned land was sold to the school operator for a fraction of its appraised value for the construction of an elementary school, which would have had Abe’s wife serve as honorary principal. Moritomo Gakuen has since abandoned its plan to open the school on the land.

 

The central questions include whether Kagoike’s organization received special treatment and whether there was any politician involved in the land deal. Another key question is whether the clout of the prime minister’s wife was used to secure a favorable deal for Kagoike.

 

Why is the Abe administration so adamantly refusing to make serious efforts to seek the truth? We cannot help but wonder if there are some inconvenient facts the administration doesn’t want to come out.

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