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New doc on alleged vet school scandal sends shockwaves through education ministry

Democratic Party lawmaker Masato Imai speaks during a party meeting over an ongoing issue involving Kake Educational Institution's plan to open a new vet school with officials from related ministries and agencies at the House of Representatives First Members' Office Building in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on June 2, 2017. (Mainichi)

The main opposition Democratic Party (DP)'s claim that they have obtained fresh evidence related to plans for a veterinary school run by a school operator headed by a close friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has sent shockwaves through the education ministry.

Senior officials dodged questions over whether they are aware of pressure by the "top level of the prime minister's office."

"The document we have received (from the DP) is from an unknown source. I'm going to decline to comment on it," Takashi Fukushima, a senior official at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology's Technical Education Division, said in low tones at the opening of a June 2 DP meeting.

Prior to the meeting, the DP presented the document to the education ministry and asked staff to show it to education minister Hirokazu Matsuno and ask his opinion of it. However, the ministry kept telling the opposition party that Matsuno was "busy on official duties" and that the staff could not reach him because he was "handling administrative affairs."

In the end, the ministry did not give DP members Matsuno's view on the document during a two-hour meeting.

DP Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Kazunori Yamanoi slammed the ministry's handling of the matter, saying, "This is a black box state. The ministry doesn't even investigate when there are valid suspicions."

Hiroki Matsuo, ministry deputy director general in charge of higher education, told reporters after the meeting with DP members that the ministry is not going to look into the document since it came from an unknown source, but then ministry General Affairs Division Director Toshimi Kushida said the ministry will "discuss a response" to the situation.

The new document came as a shock to those within the education ministry. There has been a dominant view that the person who leaked a series of documents in connection with Kake Educational Institution's plan to open a veterinary department at its university, with one mentioning it was Abe's "will" that the new school be approved, to news organizations was former vice education minister Kihei Maekawa, who vouched for the authenticity of the documents. The new document, however, had names of junior ministry officials such as division deputy directors and section chiefs as email recipients. Maekawa, the ministry's former top bureaucrat, was unlikely to see this particular document. He has never mentioned it in interviews or news conferences.

An education ministry employee says it is highly possible that the document leaked from within the ministry. The person added, "If the ministry continues to refuse to reinvestigate the (Kake) case, it would damage the public's trust in the ministry beyond repair."

Another employee told the Mainichi Shimbun, "How long will we be tossed about by these documents? If no such papers exist, the ministry should just carry out a fresh investigation and show that they don't exist."

Meanwhile, experts demanded the education ministry reinvestigate the Kake case. Constitutional scholar Masahiro Uzaki, a professor emeritus at Dokkyo University, said he believes the newly surfaced document was genuine, saying, "From the contents of the email, even with my amateur eyes I can tell it's not fake." He added, "The government's handling of these documents so far has been nothing but a display of its cover-up character. They have no choice but to reinvestigate."

All the education ministry did with regard to the Kake vet school-related documents was to interview seven Higher Education Bureau officials and asked whether they created or shared the papers. In addition, the ministry only examined computer folders shared among employees in related divisions.

Yukiko Miki, chair of the NPO Access-info Clearinghouse Japan, says the authenticity of the documents can be confirmed if employees' emails and the ministry's computer server are checked. At the same time, she raised concerns, saying, "Unless the investigation is carried out by a neutral third-party, it could lead to the identities of the people responsible (for the leak) coming out and cause trouble for them."

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