Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife, Akie Abe, took to Facebook after Yasunori Kagoike, the head of scandal-hit school operator Moritomo Gakuen, testified before the Diet on March 23 that he received a 1-million-yen donation from the prime minister's wife.
"I did not give Mr. Kagoike a 1-million-yen donation, and I have not received speaking fees from him (for a speech at Moritomo Gakuen's kindergarten)," Akie wrote on her Facebook page on the night of March 23. She also denied involvement in an inquiry made by Kagoike to the Finance Ministry regarding a discounted price for a plot of state-owned land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture.
In response to Kagoike's claim that the two of them were in a room alone when Akie handed him an envelope containing 1 million yen, she commented, "I do not ask my secretaries to leave when I give speeches, and wouldn't do something like that anyway. "
Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga distributed copies of a fax message sent to Kagoike by Akie's aide, who is a staff member at the prime minister's office, to reporters during a March 23 news conference. Kagoike referred to the message in his sworn testimony.
When asked whether the fact that Akie's aide made inquiries with the Finance Ministry can be regarded as Akie's direct involvement in the discounted land price, Suga said, "Absolutely not."
On Kagoike's testimony that he received a donation from Akie and that she said, "It's from Shinzo Abe," when handing over the money, Suga told reporters, "The prime minister did not make a donation himself, and neither did Mrs. Abe."
The government has also revealed the addressee written on the envelope containing documents sent by the school operator to Akie's aide at the prime minister's office.
"A letter was sent to Mrs. Abe's aide, and she replied after making inquiries (with the Finance Ministry) about systematic matters. That's all there is to it. Regardless of who makes inquiries, the Finance Ministry responds in the same way," Suga said. He added that the aide "flat-out refused to comply with Mr. Kagoike's request" and that Akie had "no direct influence" over the case. Suga also denied Akie was involved in composing the fax message.
A senior official at the prime minister's office told the Mainichi Shimbun that Akie ignored voice messages Kagoike left on her cell phone. The official believes that Kagoike sent the letter to Akie's aide as he did not get a reply from Akie.
However, attorney Yoji Ochiai, a former prosecutor at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office, argues that it appears Akie had some influence on the land acquisition.
"From the contents of the fax message, it can be said that Mrs. Abe was involved in the case to some extent," Ochiai told the Mainichi. "When politicians make inquiries with bureaucrats, even if those public officials say they can't comply with the politicians' request, they still influence how those officials act in a subtle manner. Such action as making inquiries gives the officials the impression that 'that politician is interested in this issue,' and it can work as a strategic move when the politician wants something done."
According to Ochiai, the fax message might have had a similar effect. He says Suga's claim that Akie had no connection with the message is unacceptable.
Ochiai added, "If it was an influential secretary to a lawmaker, it would have been possible for the aide to work on her own, but she is a government staff member sent to assist Mrs. Abe. It is unlikely that she made moves without Mrs. Abe's permission."
Ochiai then commented on Kagoike's testimony, saying, "I got the impression that Mr. Kagoike was speaking in a sincere manner (at the Diet), and his story was concrete and reasonable."
While Kagoike and Akie completely disagree on whether or not a donation was made, Ochiai points out, "The fact that Mr. Kagoike testified under oath before the Diet while facing the risk of being prosecuted for perjury should be taken seriously." He adds, "Now Mrs. Abe needs to speak out about the case at the Diet."