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Editorial: In Moritomo Gakuen scandal, testimony necessary from all involved

It has been made obvious once again that sworn testimony from the head of nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen is not enough to shed light on the sale of state-owned land at a massive discount. It is crucial that we hear rebuttals and testimony from others who are tied to the scandal.

Yesterday, Yasunori Kagoike, head of the Osaka-based Moritomo Gakuen, testified as a sworn witness in the budget committees of both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors.

During the sessions, Kagoike refused to answer questions that could have put him at a disadvantage, including on why he had submitted contracts to three parties with different amounts listed for how much the construction of a new school, Mizuho-no-kuni Kinen Elementary School, which he had planned to open in April, would cost. Even then, there were major revelations in Kagoike's sworn testimony.

First, Kagoike said that while he accepted a 1-million-yen donation from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife, Akie, he also said that he gave Akie 100,000 yen in speaking fees. Furthermore, he revealed the existence of a fax from an aide to Akie Abe, which stated that while the aide consulted with the Finance Ministry about a request from Kagoike that Akie offer her assistance in his negotiations with the government on the land sale, it would be "difficult" to comply with the request.

The prime minister, meanwhile, has denied giving donations to Moritomo Gakuen or that his wife had received any speaking fees. "If my wife or I are found to have been involved in the approval (of Mizuho-no-kuni Kinen Elementary School) or the land sale, I will step down as prime minister and as a lawmaker," Abe told the Diet. In other words, the truth behind this scandal impinges on the prime minister's credibility.

Kagoike testified that when Akie Abe accepted the post of honorary principal at Mizuho-no-kuni Kinen Elementary School, from which she has since stepped down, he informed administrative offices relating to the building of his new school of that fact. There's no way to deny the possibility that mentioning Akie's name put Moritomo Gakuen at an advantage when negotiating with administrative agencies.

We want to hear directly from Akie Abe whether the statements made by Kagoike are true. If she is unwilling to hold a press conference, then she should be summoned to speak to the Diet.

Kagoike's sworn testimony did not provide an answer to questions about why the government decided to sell the plot of land to Moritomo Gakuen at such a low price.

The government independently calculated the cost of eliminating trash, which had been found underground at the site, at 800 million yen, which led to the precipitous drop in the land price. Kagoike told lawmakers yesterday that negotiations turned in his favor ever since a massive volume of trash was found on the site. "Kamikaze (divine winds) blew," he said, adding, "I was surprised by the unexpected magnitude of the discount we were given."

It was as if Kagoike was suggesting that he has no idea how that happened, so lawmakers needed to ask the administrative agencies involved for the answers they are seeking. The House of Councillors decided that it would summon government officials at the time of the sale, such as the then Finance Ministry's Financial Bureau chief, to give testimony in the Diet as unsworn witnesses. But those summons came much later than it should have.

In addition, Kagoike said in his sworn testimony yesterday that he is of the understanding that politicians were involved in the scandal, at each step of the process. He named Diet members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) from his local constituency, and a former Osaka Prefectural Assembly member, revealing that he had sought their assistance in purchasing the state-owned land.

Another major question in this scandal is that of why the Osaka Prefectural Private School Council in January of 2015 gave the green light to Moritomo Gakuen to establish Mizuho-no-kuni Kinen Elementary School. After the scandal emerged, Kagoike rescinded his application for approval, and emphasized that "Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui pulled the rug from under me." The Diet must hear testimony from Gov. Matsui and others as well.

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