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Inada's credentials questioned after she reneges on link to scandal-hit school operator

Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, center, is followed by reporters in the National Diet Building on March 14, 2017. (Mainichi)

Questions have been raised once again over the qualifications of lawyer-turned politician Tomomi Inada to serve as Japan's defense minister after she retracted her remarks over her links to Osaka-based school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which is at the center of a high-profile scandal over its cut-price purchase of public land.

On March 14, Inada admitted that she had in fact represented Moritomo Gakuen as a lawyer at a civil case hearing in late 2004 and retracted earlier statements she had made in the Diet. Opposition parties are turning up the heat on Inada who made definitive statements based solely on her memory. Democratic Party (DP) policy chief Hiroshi Ogushi said, "Considering even the fluctuation of her answers to questions in the Diet, she has no qualifications to serve as defense minister."

The opposition bloc regards Inada's withdrawal of her statements in the Diet as an issue that has bearings on the bedrock of the national legislature. At a meeting of directors of the House of Councillors Budget Committee on the morning of March 14, DP legislator Tetsuro Fukuyama, who heads the group of directors from the opposition camp for the upper house budget panel, said, "The authority of the upper house has been polluted by her false statements in the Diet." Apart from the issue over Moritomo Gakuen, he said his party would call into question Inada's credentials.

Yasue Funayama, a lawmaker who belongs to a parliamentary group affiliated with the DP, grilled Inada at a subsequent budget committee session, asking her, "Why did you make decisive statements based only on your memory?" In her reply, Inada repeatedly said, "I replied in the Diet (that I was not involved with Moritomo Gakuen) with confidence in my memory. Despite this, some of my statements were against the facts. I correct them and apologize." Funayama then said with her voice raised, "You tell lies without confirming things. You forget things that are inconvenient to you. You say you don't remember. If such a thing is accepted, you can do anything you want, can't you?" Funayama then urged Inada to step down as defense minister, saying, "Under these circumstances, can we trust you as the commander of the Self-Defense Forces? Can you fulfill your responsibility? I want you to think about the weight of your responsibility and make a proper decision."

During a question and answer session later in the day, Inada amended statements she had made earlier in the Diet that she had not received any contributions from Moritomo Gakuen. When DP legislator Naoki Kazama showed a document that said Inada had received a total of 12,000 yen from Moritomo Gakuen Chairman Yasunori Kagoike and his wife in 2007, Inada admitted that she had received the donations, saying, "As you point it out now, I think it is true." With respect to Inada's statements made in the Diet based on her memory, Kazama said, "Cabinet ministers are obliged to give answers based on facts in the Diet."

Inada said at a news conference on March 14 ahead of the budget committee session, "I made the decisive statements because I don't remember well." She went on to say, "The statements were based on my memory and I do not recognize that I have made false statements." Inada, nonetheless, has come under increasingly fierce fire from the opposition camp. DP leader Renho said, "Her statements in the Diet are false statements."

After assuming the post of defense minister last August, there have been many cases in which Inada's words and deeds were called into question. Before becoming defense minister, she visited Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15 -- the anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II. She did not visit the shrine on Aug. 15, 2016 immediately after assuming the defense portfolio on the grounds that she had to visit Djibouti, Africa. At that time she told reporters while choking up, "Yasukuni is a spiritual matter." Her remark caused a sensation at the time. When DP legislator Kiyomi Tsujimoto criticized her and said in the Diet, "Your words and actions are inconsistent," Inada shed tears. Even a legislator from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was harsh on Inada, "The SDF commander must not cry in the Diet." Inada visited Yasukuni Shrine on Dec. 29, 2016 for the first time as defense minister. This was immediately after returning to Japan from Hawaii where she accompanied Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to pay respects to the war dead in Pearl Harbor. Even ruling party legislators raised questions about the timing of Inada's visit to the shrine.

When she was grilled during a House of Representatives Budget Committee session over the term "combat" used in daily reports prepared by a Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) unit dispatched to South Sudan for U.N. peacekeeping operations, Inada said what she apparently thought could be the truth, "We are using the term 'armed clash' instead of 'combat' because it will become an issue due to Article 9 of the Constitution." Inada then came under heavy fire from the opposition camp, with one legislator saying, "That constitutes the denial of constitutionalism."

Furthermore, when asked during an upper house budget committee session on March 8 about how she would think about the fact that a kindergarten run by Moritomo Gakuen forces children to recite the 1890 Imperial Rescript on Education, Inada said, "We should take back the spirit that we should aim for a state based on moral principles." When the opposition camp turned up the heat on her, Inada repeatedly said during an upper house budget committee session on March 10, "I am not in a position to answer questions outside my jurisdiction."

There have been many instances in which Inada read out memos prepared by bureaucrats in the Diet. There have occasionally been cases in which Prime Minister Abe picked up answers left off by Inada in the Diet. Opposition legislators poked fun at Abe's handling in the Diet, with one lawmaker saying, "The prime minister should stop 'rush and rescue' operations to answer questions" -- in reference to a mission given to the SDF under Japan's new security legislation.

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