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Editorial: Abe should face Diet over favoritism scandal

Deliberations over a favoritism scandal centering on school operator Kake Educational Institution, which is headed by a close friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, were held at both houses of the Diet on July 10. Suspicions have arisen that the prime minister and other top government officials were involved in the Kake group's plan to open a new veterinary school, but questions surrounding the plan have been left unanswered. Continued efforts at the Diet to unravel the scandal are necessary.

In spite of the lack of answers, some key points of the scandal were put in order during the deliberations, as former vice education minister Kihei Maekawa appeared at the Diet as an unsworn witness for the first time.

"It seemed as if a process had been set up to pick Kake Educational Institution (as the operator of a new veterinary department) from the outset. The decision-making involved in this case was very unreasonable," Maekawa told the Diet.

Maekawa, the former top bureaucrat at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, specifically stated that the prime minister's office was behind the new vet school plan. Furthermore, he acknowledged the existence of an education ministry document dated Oct. 7, 2016, which suggests that Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda was involved in the process. Maekawa said he received this memo while he was vice minister. The memo is the same document that the education ministry insists it "could not find" in its second probe. Maekawa's fresh testimony, admitting in the Diet that the memo existed, was therefore significant.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hagiuda, meanwhile, admitted that he met with education ministry officials that day, but dodged questions regarding the remarks in the document suggesting a role was played by the prime minister's office, saying that he does not remember.

The government has flatly denied the core suspicions of the scandal -- namely, that Abe's will played a part in the new vet school plan -- without presenting clear evidence. On top of this, it has continued to reject calls for additional probes into the issue.

It must be conceded that opposition lawmakers were insufficiently prepared for the out-of-session Diet meetings to grill the government further. However, if such back-and-forth discussions about the scandal are to continue, the Diet will be left with no choice but to consider summoning sworn witnesses, who could be charged for perjury if they give false testimony.

During proceedings in the Diet on July 10, Kozo Yamamoto, the state minister in charge of regional revitalization, started reeling off a memo when he was supposed to be answering questions. Due to his hasty speech, few people could probably understand what he was saying.

Prime Minister Abe has acknowledged that the government's handling of the Kake scandal has contributed to people's distrust and promised that the government would give thorough explanations on the matter, but Yamamoto did not appear interested in helping people understand in the first place.

The Liberal Democratic Party earlier (LDP) rejected requests to have Abe present at the out-of-session Diet meetings, on the grounds that he was out of the country for the Group of 20 summit. The ruling party also refused to call Hiroto Izumi, the special adviser to the prime minister whom Maekawa calls "the key person" in the Kake scandal, and other witnesses to the meetings.

It is necessary to hold another round of Diet sessions in a prompt manner with the prime minister and other key figures present -- not only because of the murky process of the new vet school plan, but also there are many questions the prime minister needs to face, including his reason for suddenly proposing that veterinary schools be allowed to open across Japan.

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