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Editorial: Defense minister's false statements in Diet unacceptable

Defense Minister Tomomi Inada seems to think that saying she's sorry is going to suffice, but a mere apology isn't going to clear up the many questions that remain regarding the Moritomo Gakuen scandal.

In a sudden turnabout, lawyer-turned-lawmaker Inada admitted on March 14 that she had indeed appeared in court in a civil suit on behalf of the plaintiff, nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen, and retracted her previous statements on the matter.

At a meeting of the House of Councillors Budget Committee just the previous day, Inada had declared that she had never represented Moritomo Gakuen in a trial or given any legal advice to the school operator.

However, once it emerged that there were court records indicating that Inada had appeared at a hearing in a civil lawsuit brought by Moritomo Gakuen in 2004 as the school operator's legal counsel, Inada made a complete reversal. "I'm inferring that I did appear in court," she said at a press conference, and told the Diet, "Since there are court records (showing that I was there), my memory seems to have failed me."

Ultimately, there is no question that the testimony the defense minister gave in the Diet prior to March 14 was false. Inada's excuse that it was a case of memory failure and not false testimony is utterly unconvincing, to say the least.

The main question at the center of the state-owned land sale controversy is whether Yasunori Kagoike, who has announced his resignation as president of Moritomo Gakuen, had connections with politicians.

While Inada had not been especially forthcoming, she had not denied the fact that her husband, also a lawyer, had been involved in the court case. If her claim that she had been speaking in the Diet "with confidence" until March 13 is true, why hadn't she confirmed whether or not she herself had direct ties to the school operator?

Inada has also come under fire from opposition parties for expressing support for the principles of the 1890 Imperial Rescript on Education, which children attending Moritomo Gakuen's Tsukamoto Kindergarten were required to recite despite the fact that the Diet scrapped it in 1948, after the end of World War II, on the grounds that it "could violate fundamental human rights and raise doubts about international confidence in Japan."

Was her false testimony regarding her relationship to Moritomo Gakuen an attempt to emphasize that she had no ties to the school operator?

Regardless, there's no avoiding the fact that she appears as though she is admitting to her court appearance only because she was caught red-handed. It is unacceptable for a Cabinet minister to treat the act of answering questions in the Diet so lightly.

And yet, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was quick to say that Inada was not responsible for any more than the apology she gave to the Diet committee. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, too, is poised to defend Inada.

This month, Shunsuke Mutai, then parliamentary vice Cabinet Office minister, joked that the "rain boot industry really made some money" after he was photographed being carried over puddles on a staffer's back when visiting the site of deadly flooding from Typhoon Lionrock in Iwate Prefecture in September last year, because he had neglected to bring appropriate footwear. He resigned as a result of the gaffe. In that case, Suga had harsh criticism for Mutai, saying, "It was an inappropriate and highly regrettable remark."

Giving false answers in the Diet, however, is a much greater transgression. It is difficult to justify the gap in the Abe administration's handling of these two cases.

Inada also told the Diet that she had not met with Kagoike for about a decade. But in interviews, Kagoike has said he met Inada at a gathering about a year or two ago.

There are a lot of questions that need to be answered, in addition to Inada's relationship with Kagoike. Accordingly, Kagoike and others who are suspected to have been involved in the case should be summoned to the Diet to provide testimony.

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