Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized for making contradictory remarks over when he came to learn that Kake Educational Institution headed by his close friend would be the operator of a new veterinary school to be established in a national strategic special zone in Ehime Prefecture.
At an out-of-session meeting of the House of Councillors budget committee on July 25, Abe reiterated the claim he had made the previous day at a House of Representatives counterpart meeting that he didn't know the Kake institution would be the operator of the new vet department until a Jan. 20 meeting of the Council on National Strategic Special Zones. However, after opposition Democratic Party (DP) leader Renho raised questions over inconsistencies between his latest remark and ones he made during the regular Diet session, Abe said, "I failed to sort out the matter adequately. There was a lack of preciseness," and effectively corrected his previous Diet remarks.
Abe has been grilled over allegations that he exercised favoritism in the approval process for the Kake group's plan to set up a vet school in the Ehime Prefecture city of Imabari. In response to a question by ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Shigeharu Aoyama at the July 25 upper house committee session, Abe testified, "I came to learn that the city of Imabari had proposed a plan to establish a vet department over the course of discussions in the Council on National Strategic Special Zones, which I chair, from November two years ago. But I wasn't aware of the Kake Educational Institution's project back then or during the ensuing process because the city of Imabari didn't explain who would operate the new vet school."
Following the testimony, Renho grilled Abe by citing his previous statements made during the regular Diet session that ended last month. At the June 16 upper house budget committee session, Social Democratic Party deputy chief Mizuho Fukushima asked Abe when he gained knowledge about the Kake institution's desire to launch a vet department in Imabari. Abe responded, "I was aware that the Kake institution had filed an application for (a vet school plan) in a special district for structural reform," which was established during the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Furthermore, during an upper house audit committee session on June 5, Abe said in response to a question from DP lawmaker Sachiko Hirayama, "I learned about (the Kake group's plan) when the school filed an application alongside the city of Imabari for a national strategic special zone under the Abe administration."
The Imabari Municipal Government proposed establishing a vet school in a national strategic special zone in June 2015, while the Kake group applied for a plan to launch a vet department in such a zone on Jan. 10 this year. Based on these facts, Renho pointed out, "In any case, it wouldn't have been on Jan. 20" this year that the prime minister came to know about the Kake group's vet school project.
In response, Abe remarked, "It was inappropriate that there were discrepancies between the content of my statement and what I had told Ms. Fukushima and Ms. Hirayama. After I sorted out the matter, I found that I had mixed up Kake Educational Institution with the city of Imabari, and I must apologize for that."
Asserting that the Kake group's Jan. 10 application for a vet school project wouldn't have immediately made it onto the agenda of the Council on National Strategic Special Zones, Abe reiterated his assertion that he first learned about the Kake plan on Jan. 20.
In a related development on July 25, regional revitalization minister Kozo Yamamoto, who is in charge of national strategic special zones, once again told reporters that he hadn't been aware of the Kake group's vet school project until Sept. 7 last year. When asked about whether he had discussed the Kake institution's willingness to open a vet school with Prime Minister Abe before Jan. 20, Yamamoto replied, "Absolutely not."
Experts and opposition parties have raised doubts over Abe's argument that he only became aware of the Kake group's plan on Jan. 20, the very day the government finalized a decision to pick the educational institution as the operator of the new vet school.
Political analyst Atsuo Ito commented, "The prime minister's testimony is unnatural as it is inconsistent with his past remarks. He may have made such unreasonable statements just because he wanted to emphasize that he has nothing to do with the case."