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As sworn witness, Kagoike says he is scapegoat over school land scandal

Yasunori Kagoike, center, chairman of the Moritomo Gakuen school corporation, testifies as a sworn witness before the House of Councillors Budget Committee on the morning of March 23, 2017. (Mainichi)

Yasunori Kagoike, the head of the scandal-hit school operator Moritomo Gakuen, testified before the House of Councillors Budget Committee on March 23 that those who had supported him in his move to open an elementary school in Osaka Prefecture made a sudden about-face and abandoned him after a controversial land deal involving the school operator surfaced. The following is an excerpt of Kagoike's sworn testimony before the Diet panel, in which he elaborated on the situation where he claims he received 1 million yen as a donation from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife on behalf of the prime minister and revealed that politicians had a role to play in the school operator's acquisition of the property in question.

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I am deeply grateful that I've been given the chance to speak before the Diet.

I've been striving to launch the Mizuho-no-kuni Kinen Elementary School out of my desire as an educator to bring up children who can truly contribute to Japan. Having people's hopes laid on me, I was, in a sense, on cloud nine.

After questions were raised from various quarters over the procedures for establishing the elementary school, however, I retracted the application for the school's launch. Seeing people who I thought had supported me leave me behind as if in a sudden change of attitude, I am wondering what went wrong.

I had initially planned to name the school Abe Shinzo Kinen Elementary School out of my respect for Prime Minister Abe, who has expressed his empathy toward my educational principles. I consulted with the prime minister's wife (Akie Abe), and thought I had got my plan across. However, she later told me, "Please refrain from using the prime minister's name," so I changed the name to Mizuho-no-kuni Kinen Elementary School.

I think Mrs. Abe also understands my educational principles. Mrs. Abe visited our kindergarten three times. It was when Mrs. Abe gave a speech (at our kindergarten) on Sept. 5 in the 27th year of the Heisei era (2015) that she assumed the post of honorary principal of Mizuho-no-kuni Kinen Elementary School. That day, Mrs. Abe and I met in the principal's room. After she told her aide to leave, there were only two of us in the room, where she said to me, "I'm sorry to have you by yourself. Please (take this), it's from Shinzo Abe," and she handed me an envelope containing 1 million yen as a donation.

Although I hear Mrs. Abe has denied the donation and claims she doesn't recall it at all, I clearly remember it as it was such an honor for us.

I'm also forever grateful to the late Mr. Nariaki Hata, who once served as speaker of the Osaka Prefectural Assembly. As Mr. Hata had close contacts with the father of (Osaka) Gov. Ichiro Matsui, I had asked Mr. Hata for help from the governor and the prefectural government. Thanks to his efforts, I was able to speak to the then head of the general affairs department of the prefectural government and they made special arrangements for me in my application for approval for opening the school. I'm grateful for that.

I will now explain about the land deal. I was introduced to the then state-owned land lot in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, in the 25th year of the Heisei era (2013). I thought it was a fantastic property, and concluded a fixed-term land lease contract on May 29 in the 27th year of Heisei (2015). After wondering if the condition for us to purchase the land could be changed, I rang up Mrs. Abe's cell phone to seek her help in October of the 27th year of Heisei.

I left a voice message on her mobile, and several days later her aide replied to me, saying, "It is difficult." A fax message I received on Nov. 17 in the 27th year of Heisei (2015) read, "As it now stands, we can't live up to your expectations. This case has already been reported to Mrs. Abe." I was grateful for their efforts.

However, household waste began to turn up from the land lot after construction work commenced at the site in March in the 28th year of Heisei (2016). Later on I had a construction firm introduce a lawyer to me and from that time I left all negotiations up to him. Eventually, I heard that the land price was discounted by more than 800 million yen to a little over 134 million yen, and I was a bit surprised at such a drastic and unexpected price cut.

After observing key government figures and the Osaka governor lay the blame on me alone over the issue, however, I began to feel that something was amiss. I felt it strange that I was told via my lawyer to hide myself for 10 days as an instruction under the name of the head of the Financial Bureau of the Ministry of Finance.

After the land sale issue emerged as a topic for Diet discussion, Mrs. Abe sent my wife email messages that could be taken as an attempt to silence us, such as a message saying, "I can imagine you and your husband are now in trouble, but I also would like you to understand that my husband, too, has been embroiled in trouble," and another text saying, "Please make sure that suspicions won't arise to the effect that something was going on behind the scenes because of my involvement."

I can hardly understand why things have turned out this way, even though Prime Minister Abe had stated that he sympathized with my way of thinking and that he had heard Moritomo Gakuen has tremendous passion for education.

Instead of trying to pin the blame on me by making me a scapegoat over the massive discount on the state-owned land and other issues, I request from the bottom of my heart that the parties concerned be summoned to the Diet to get to the bottom of the case.

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