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Ex-bureaucrat gives calm testimony on Kake scandal as lawmakers sling mud

Former vice education minister Kihei Maekawa, left, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, right, are seen during a Diet meeting on a scandal involving Kake Educational Institution on July 10, 2017. (Mainichi)

Kihei Maekawa, a former top bureaucrat in the education ministry, on July 10 fended off the ruling coalition's efforts at "impression manipulation" aimed at lessening the credibility of his testimony regarding plans by a school corporation run by a friend of the prime minister to establish a veterinary school in a national strategic special zone.

During a Diet meeting on July 10 held separately from a regular session of the legislature, the ruling coalition asked Maekawa, who provided testimony as an unsworn witness, aggressive and critical questions. Maekawa calmly answered the questions, while occasionally using strong words.

One ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) legislator took a swipe at the former bureaucrat by saying, "I'd like to ask Mr. Maekawa, who stepped down to take responsibility for a scandal involving ministry officials landing post-retirement jobs in the private sector, some questions."

"It's well known to the public that you resigned after being involved in an illicit incident in which officials landed post-retirement jobs," another LDP lawmaker said.

These legislators then asked Maekawa about his and the ministry's response to the plan by Kake Educational Institution to establish a veterinary school in Ehime Prefecture.

Maekawa, former vice education minister, explained that the ministry did not comply with a request from a board member of the educational institution who had retired from the ministry that the ministry swiftly deal with an application for permission to establish a veterinary school.

"It's a harmful effect of government officials landing post-retirement jobs in the private sector that retired officials put pressure on incumbent bureaucrats. I prevented such requests from influencing our policy decisions. Surmising (top government officials' intentions) or relaxing screening of applications is something that we shouldn't do," Maekawa said. "It's wrong to link the issue of landing lucrative post-retirement jobs to the vet school project."

Renho, leader of the largest opposition Democratic Party (DP), brought up Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga's comment at a news conference in late May that Maekawa "clung to his position."

In response, Suga said he had been notified that Maekawa wanted to stay on until the end of March when he was due to retire because of the mandatory retirement age. Suga then told the Diet, "I said he should resign voluntarily."

Maekawa angrily replied, "That's not true."

During the meeting, which lasted for about seven hours, Maekawa did not necessarily cooperate with opposition parties that were aiming to use his testimony to grill the Abe government over the Kake scandal.

Maekawa rather spoke calmly and smoothly, showing that he is used to responding to questions from legislators as a former bureaucrat.

Hodaka Maruyama, a Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) member of the House of Representatives, pointed out that Maekawa had explained that his visits to a so-called "date bar" were "on-site inspections on the situation surrounding women's poverty."

In response, Maekawa stated, "The wording may not have been appropriate," but added that he "subjectively felt a Yomiuri Shimbun daily report (on his visits to the bar) was linked" to moves within the prime minister's office.

Maekawa declined to answer questions by Takuya Hirai, an LDP member of the lower house, about who leaked education ministry in-house documents on the Kake case.

Maekawa appreciated the Diet's efforts to investigate the Kake case. "Efforts to get to the bottom of what happened within the government should be welcomed," the former bureaucrat told reporters before leaving the Diet on July 10.

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