TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated on April 11 that the procedure for approving scandal-hit Kake Educational Institution's establishment of a veterinary school in the Ehime Prefecture city of Imabari, an area designated as a national strategic special zone, was appropriate.
"There's no problem with its process. Nobody received any instruction regarding the matter from me," Abe told a House of Representatives Budget Committee session.
His comment came after Ehime Gov. Tokihiro Nakamura acknowledged in a news conference on April 10 that a prefectural government official said they had been told by Tadao Yanase, then secretary to the prime minister, on April 2, 2015, that Kake's plan was "a matter concerning the prime minister."
The governor said the prefectural government official recorded Yanase's remark in a memo, but that the document currently could not be located in the prefectural government building.
Prime Minister Abe declined to comment on the matter during the same Diet meeting. "I'd like to refrain from commenting on the document compiled by the Ehime Prefectural Government," he said.
"A member (of the Council on National Strategic Special Zones) selected from the private sector who was involved in the screening process clearly stated that there's no problem at all," the prime minister said. "Question-and-answer sessions on the matter have clarified that not one person received instructions from me."
He was responding to questions from Masahiko Shibayama, a legislator with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
The memo said that during a meal attended by Prime Minister Abe and Kake, they talked about then education minister Hakubun Shimomura having criticized the school operator as "outrageous." The document described the school operator as seeking advice from Yanase on how to respond to Shimomura's criticism.
Prime Minister Abe admitted in the same Diet meeting that he had dined with Kake on three occasions between June and December 2014, but reiterated his earlier statement that he had never been consulted by Kake over his organization's plan to establish the veterinary school. Abe also denied that he had dined with Kake and Shimomura together.
Former education minister Shimomura told reporters inside the Diet building on the morning of April 11 that he was not aware whether such meetings had taken place.
The document that the Ehime Prefectural Government official compiled as a memo records statements made by Yanase during a meeting with officials of the prefectural and Imabari municipal governments and the Kake institution.
Yanase, who now serves as vice minister for international affairs at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, denies having met with prefectural or municipal government officials. "As far as I can remember, I have never met officials of the Ehime Prefectural Government or the Imabari Municipal Government," he said in a statement released on April 10.
(Japanese original by Takenori Noguchi and Yusuke Matsukura, Political News Department)