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Editorial: Akie Abe must break silence over Moritomo Gakuen scandal

Efforts in the Diet to uncover the truth behind the heavily discounted acquisition of state land by Osaka-based school operator Moritomo Gakuen have come to a standstill.

The reason is that the ruling coalition is refusing to call relevant figures to testify in the Diet, even though this has become all the more necessary following the summoning of Moritomo Gakuen Chairman Yasunori Kagoike, who spoke as a sworn witness. The ruling parties appear to have dug their heels in particularly deep to resist the summoning of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife Akie as a sworn witness.

Suspicions hanging over Akie Abe are not merely restricted to the question of whether or not she handed a 1 million yen donation to Moritomo Gakuen. It has emerged that one of her government aides made inquiries with the Ministry of Finance about the land Moritomo Gakuen eventually acquired. The government's explanation that this was a "personal inquiry by an official" is unreasonable. We cannot move forward before the actions of Akie Abe as "the prime minister's wife" have been clarified.

The government maintains that Akie Abe does not require government orders and is not a public figure. It says that she supports the official duties of the prime minister "as a private citizen."

But Akie Abe's activities are much wider than those of previous first ladies. She has given lectures and spoken at events across Japan, and many groups are said to have sought her assistance is various forms.

The reason that five government workers have been assigned to assist Akie Abe is probably to handle her expanding activities. However, it's hard to say there is a clear line to determine whether her activities are public or private.

For certain, Akie Abe does appear to respond to requests in an easygoing manner. But surely the biggest thing that those seeking her assistance desire is her influence as the prime minister's wife.

No doubt her greatest sphere of influence is in relation to bureaucrats. Personnel matters at government ministries are decided through the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs. The Abe administration uses this fact to its best advantage, and it could be said that it accordingly wields authority over government ministries.

It is certain that bureaucrats whose jobs are in the hands of the prime minister's office have to comply with the prime minister's stance to a greater extent than before. It is perhaps, then, only natural for bureaucrats to make considerations and regard "the will of Akie as the will of the prime minister." We must not forget that the Moritomo Gakuen scandal occurred under an administration with Prime Minister Abe alone wielding unrivalled power.

It appears that Akie Abe is unaware of the extent of her own power. She has remained silent since posting a comment on Facebook. But we call, once again, for her to provide an explanation in a news conference or in the Diet.

At the same time, the government should clarify the role of the prime minister's wife.

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