Further questions have been raised over relations between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife Akie and the scandal-hit Moritomo Gakuen school operator in Osaka.
It has surfaced that a government official assigned as an aide to the prime minister's wife sent a fax to Yasunori Kagoike, head of the Moritomo Gakuen school corporation, after asking the Finance Ministry about a land lease following a request by Kagoike. The aide, Saeko Tani, conveyed the ministry's response to the school corporation head.
Kagoike himself revealed the existence of the fax when he recently testified before the Diet as a sworn witness, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga disclosed the content of the message.
Moritomo Gakuen planned to open an elementary school on a state-owned land lot it was leasing in 2015. Kagoike is said to have contacted aides to Akie Abe over whether the lease could be extended.
The fax message states that the Finance Ministry's National Property Examination and Appraisal Office responded that the office could not comply with the request, but that "we would like to watch over" the development of the matter. Shortly before that, Akie Abe assumed the position of honorary principal of the elementary school that Moritomo Gakuen planned to open.
Prime Minister Abe denied that Tani used her influence or put pressure on the ministry, saying, "The official made a technical inquiry about the system and relevant legislation." The prime minister went on to say, "My wife hasn't heard anything about the details of the land contract at all." Cabinet Secretariat Councilor Eiji Habu said Tani made a "personal inquiry" with the Finance Ministry.
However, questions remain about these explanations. Five government officials are assigned to assist Akie Abe in supporting her husband's official duties. Tani is one of them. The action taken by Tani is not among the duties she is supposed to perform as a government official.
The fax message says that Tani conveyed the ministry's response to Akie Abe. As such, the possibility cannot be ruled out that Tani had consulted with the prime minister's wife in advance.
Moreover, the message includes the description of the government's plan to set aside taxpayers' money to cover the expenses that Moritomo Gakuen had temporarily paid to remove waste from the land lot. Suspicions have arisen that the head of the ministry's National Property Examination and Appraisal Office responded to the inquiry from Tani because she was an aide to the prime minister's wife.
Prime Minister Abe recently stated in the Diet that if it turned out either he or his wife were involved in the land deal or in granting Moritomo Gakuen permission, he would "resign as prime minister and as a Diet member."
Suga disclosed the fax message in an apparent bid to show that neither Akie Abe nor her aide was involved in the matter because the government refused to comply with Kagoike's request over the land lease.
However, the contents of the fax have rather raised more questions as to whether Akie Abe was involved in the case.
Moreover, the government claims that it has discarded records of its talks with Moritomo Gakuen. However, the latest disclosure raises suspicions that it may have kept other relevant documents.
Akie Abe posted a message to her Facebook account denying Kagoike's claim during his sworn testimony before the Diet that she extended a 1 million yen donation to him, but the post does little to convince the public. She should provide a clear explanation of the case in the Diet or at a news conference.