Tadao Yanase, a former aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, testified before the Diet as an unsworn witness on May 10 over the establishment of a veterinary school in the Ehime Prefecture city of Imabari by Kake Educational Institution, a school corporation run by a close Abe friend.
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Yanase, now vice minister for international affairs at the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, admitted that he met with Kake officials and others at the prime minister's office on April 2, 2015. He also told the Diet that officials of local governments concerned, including the Imabari Municipal Government, "may have been present" at the meeting, effectively revising his previous statement that "as far as I remember, I did not meet any (Ehime or Imabari officials)."
It took nearly one year to confirm whether Yanase met with certain figures on a certain day.
In June 2017, the existence of a document compiled by the Imabari Municipal Government recording a visit by city officials to the prime minister's office surfaced. The following month, an opposition legislator asked if city officials met with Yanase, and the latter denied that he had. Another document compiled by an Ehime Prefectural Government official recording the details of the conversation subsequently came to light, apparently forcing Yanase to admit to the meeting.
Yanase's explanation of why he had not admitted to meeting Kake officials is surprising. He said he was simply responding to questions in the Diet about whether he met with Ehime and Imabari officials. He appears to have meant that he had not mentioned his meeting with Kake institution officials simply because he was never asked such questions.
The meeting took place two months before the Imabari Municipal Government filed an application for designation of the city as part of a national strategic special zone with reduced regulation to allow the establishment of a new veterinary school.
Yanase disclosed on May 10 that he met with Kake officials at the prime minister's office on three occasions.
Yanase said he got acquainted with the chairman of Kake Educational Institution at the prime minister's vacation home in May 2013. It is natural to speculate that Yanase agreed to meet Kake officials, considering the school operator chairman's personal ties to the prime minister.
However, Yanase emphasized that he had proactively met business operators besides Kake officials and never reported his meeting with Kake officials to the prime minister. His explanation is hardly believable.
The Ehime document states that Yanase described Kake's plan to set up the veterinary department of its Okayama University of Science in Imabari as "a matter concerning the prime minister." Yanase denied during his testimony that he had made such a comment in the meeting. However, his explanation lacks consistency, rather strengthening the impression that the veterinary school plan was indeed "a matter concerning the prime minister."
Prime Minister Abe has denied involvement in the process of approving the Kake vet school, saying that he first learned of the plan in January 2017.
Yanase's testimony does very little to dispel suspicions surrounding the case. Both ruling and opposition parties should swiftly summon officials of local governments concerned and Kake officials to testify before the Diet to get to the bottom of the case.