TOKYO -- A former secretary to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe admitted last year to the possibility that he had met with officials from the Ehime Prefectural Government and others over Kake Educational Institution's veterinary school plan, sources close to the government said.
This is despite his denial of meeting with officials of Ehime Prefecture and the prefecture city of Imabari, which has been designated as a national strategic special zone and where the Kake institution has opened the veterinary faculty.
"I can't say I never met with the officials," Tadao Yanase, who now serves as vice minister for international affairs at the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, was quoted as telling his aides in July 2017.
Yanase released a comment on April 10 that stated, "I did not meet them as far as I remember." However, the latest revelation could overturn his explanation.
A memo compiled by a prefectural government official indicates that officials of the Ehime prefectural and Imabari municipal governments met with Yanase at the prime minister's office on April 2, 2015.
The document quotes Yanase as saying in the meeting that the Kake institution's veterinary school plan, which is at the center of a favoritism scandal, was "a matter concerning the prime minister."
Yanase talked about the meeting in question to his aides sometime around July 25 last year -- when he attended the House of Councillors Budget Committee's intensive deliberations on the matter as a witness, according to the sources.
Yanase was quoted as saying that he and Yutaka Fujiwara, then deputy head of the Office for Promotion of Regional Revitalization at the Cabinet Office who was overseeing national strategic special zones, met with several people including Kake Educational Institution officials on April 2, 2015.
"I was of the understanding that Mr. Fujiwara had brought Kake Educational Institution members to the office. I don't remember exchanging business cards with them. Nor did I confirm the identities of those present at the meeting," Yanase was quoted as explaining to aides. "I can't say I never met with (prefectural and municipal) officials."
Yanase told an upper chamber Budget Committee meeting that "as far as I can trace my memory, I never met" the prefectural and municipal government officials, apparently despite his awareness of the possibility that he had met them.
Former lower house Speaker Bunmei Ibuki, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said on a TV program on the night of April 16 that he thinks that there is a high possibility that Yanase met with prefectural and municipal officials.
"All relevant information point to the likelihood that he actually met them," Ibuki said.
(Japanese original by Shusaku Sugimoto, City News Department, and Aoi Hanazawa, Matsuyama Bureau)