TOKYO -- The Diet is set to summon Tadao Yanase, former executive secretary to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to testify as early as next week over an Ehime Prefectural Government document stating that he told Kake Educational Institution officials that its plan to open a veterinary school in the prefecture was "a matter concerning the prime minister."
The move comes after Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Ken Saito announced on April 13 that the document was discovered at the ministry.
Yanase has categorically denied that he made such a remark. However, opposition parties argue that the credibility of the document has been boosted because such a document has turned up also within the central government.
The ruling coalition and opposition parties are considering summoning Yanase, who currently serves as vice minister for international affairs at the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, to the Diet sometime between April 17 and 20 while Prime Minister Abe is in the United States. They are consulting over whether to have Yanase testify under oath or as an unsworn witness.
Saito said the ministry interviewed 36 officials at the farm ministry and found that a deputy division director-level official "personally" kept a copy of the document. The document was in a file that the official received from his predecessor when he assumed a new post in May 2015. However, he did not hand over the document to his successor after deeming that it wasn't directly linked to the ministry's work.
The official's predecessor was quoted as saying in questioning by the ministry, "I don't remember having seen the document or giving it over to my successor. I guess it may have been among documents I handed over." The document was never shared with any other official at the ministry.
An Ehime Prefectural Government official and others compiled the document as a memo on April 3, 2015, the day after meeting separately with Yutaka Fujiwara, then deputy head of the Office for Promotion of Regional Revitalization at the Cabinet Office, and Yanase.
The contents of the document that turned up at the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry are almost identical to those of a document that the Ehime Prefectural Government announced on April 10 that a prefectural official compiled as a memo of the meeting.
Prime Minister Abe said in Higashiosaka, Osaka Prefecture, on April 13 that the government is determined to "thoroughly probe the matter and get to the bottom of the case."
Yoshihisa Inoue, secretary-general of junior ruling coalition partner Komeito, said he will respect any request that Yanase be summoned to testify before the Diet over the matter. "If it's deemed necessary (to summon Yanase), we'd like to respect it," he told a news conference on April 13.
A senior official of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's Diet Affairs Committee, said the governing bloc has no choice but to comply with requests to summon Yanase to the Diet. "It has undoubtedly become difficult to refuse to summon him. If we are to reject any such request, Diet deliberations would be stalled."
The Diet is set to begin deliberations on a bill aimed at reforming the way people work, to which the government attaches particular importance.
(Japanese original by Akiko Kato, Economic News Department, and Akira Murao, Political News Department)