TOKYO — A former education minister denied Thursday a weekly magazine report that his support group illegally handled donations from a school operator at the heart of a favoritism scandal involving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Hakubun Shimomura, executive acting secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said his support group has never accepted donations from Kake Educational Institution run by a close friend of Abe, nor sold it tickets for his fundraising parties as reported by the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun.
“The article runs counter to the facts,” Shimomura, a close aide of Abe, said at a press conference at the LDP headquarters.
Citing internal documents of Shimomura’s office, Shukan Bunshun reported in its edition that hit newsstands Thursday the school operator purchased party tickets worth a total of 2 million yen ($17,800) in 2013 and 2014, while he served as education minister.
But his support group Hakuyukai failed to record receipt of the money in its political fund reports as required by law, according to the report.
Japan’s political funds control law stipulates that a political organization must report any ticket purchase totaling more than 200,000 yen.
Noting his office confirmed a senior Kake official brought 1 million yen to his office in 2013 and the same amount in 2014, Shimomura said the money was not donations from the institution but ticket purchases by 11 individuals and companies, whom he did not identify.
Shimomura claimed each ticket purchase was less than 200,000 yen and the senior Kake official handed the collected money to the office on behalf of them.
Kake Educational Institution released a statement later in the day and said it did not give donations to Shimomura.
The weekly magazine also issued a statement and countered the former minister’s explanation, saying it is “confident” about the contents of the article.
Abe’s government has been under fire amid claims the prime minister used his influence to approve a plan to launch the first veterinary university department in half a century in a special economic zone in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, western Japan. Kotaro Kake, the chairman of the school operator, is known as a close friend of Abe.
Opposition parties stepped up their offensive against the LDP, which was earlier this week hit by Defense Minister Tomomi Inada’s contentious remark in a stump speech for the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election scheduled Sunday, which they argue amounts to making political use of the Self-Defense Forces.
Democratic Party leader Renho said Shimomura needs more explaining to do, including why the Kake official collected the money and who the 11 donors were.
Shimomura, who heads the LDP’s Tokyo chapter, said he suspects the weekly magazine article was aimed at obstructing the party’s election campaign and is considering taking the matter to court.
Facing popular Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike’s Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First party), the LDP is struggling to remain the largest party in the assembly.
The former education minister said he suspects one of his former secretaries, who is now running in the Tokyo assembly election as a candidate for Koike’s party, leaked the internal documents to the weekly.
Shimomura also said he “has no choice but to have huge suspicion” of the former secretary. Shimomura distributed at the press conference copies of a document allegedly written by the secretary in which he apologized for embezzling money from the office.