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Official's remarks on Kake meeting suggest direct plan between PM's aide, local gov't

Tadao Yanase, vice minister for international affairs at the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, leaves Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's office on April 16, 2018, after meeting with the prime minister. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Remarks from a senior government official have raised the possibility that the Ehime Prefectural Government directly arranged a meeting in 2015 with an aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over plans by an educational institution to set up a veterinary school that is now at the center of a favoritism scandal.

A document compiled by the prefectural government states that prefectural and municipal officials and senior members of Kake Educational Institution met with Tadao Yanase, then executive secretary to Prime Minister Abe, at the prime minister's office on April 2, 2015, after talks at the Cabinet Office with senior government official Yutaka Fujiwara, then deputy head of the Office for Promotion of Regional Revitalization at the Cabinet Office. The document quotes Yanase as saying at the meeting that the Kake institution's veterinary school plan was "a matter concerning the prime minister."

Fujiwara has admitted having met with Ehime Prefectural Government officials, but says he has no recollection of a meeting having taken place between prefectural government officials and Yanase, a Cabinet Office probe found.

If Fujiwara's explanation is true, it raises the possibility that the Ehime Prefectural Government arranged a meeting directly with Yanase, indicating that the prime minister's office played a leading role in the Kake institution's establishment of the veterinary school in the Ehime Prefecture city of Imabari. Kotaro Kake, chairman of the institution, is a close friend of Prime Minister Abe.

On April 20, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology released an email it received from the Cabinet Office on the day when Ehime prefectural and Imabari municipal officials as well as high-ranking members of the Kake institution are purported to have met with Fujiwara and Yanase. The email states that Ehime prefectural officials would meet Yanase.

At a news conference on April 20 following a regular Cabinet meeting, Hiroshi Kajiyama, minister for regional revitalization, disclosed the outcome of an investigation into whether the meeting between prefectural and other officials and Yanase took place. Kajiyama quoted Fujiwara as saying, "I have no recollection of the meeting (between prefectural and other officials and Yanase) having taken place. I never arranged such a meeting, introduced them or accompanied them." This suggests that a meeting could have been arranged directly between Yanase and the prefectural government.

It is believed to be extremely rare for local government officials to directly schedule a meeting with a secretary to the prime minister.

The finding could support the case that a close aide to Prime Minister Abe backed the veterinary school plan of a school corporation headed by a close friend of the prime minister.

Yanase released a statement on April 10 saying that he never met prefectural or other officials, as far as he recalled.

However, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned that Yanase earlier admitted to the possibility that he may have met with Ehime and other officials. "I can't say I never met them," he was quoted as telling his aides in July last year, when the Diet debated on whether the meeting actually took place.

Yanase, who now serves as vice minister for international affairs at the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, told reporters on April 20, "I'd like to sincerely respond to questions if I'm summoned to the Diet."

Separately, Kajiyama told the April 20 news conference that an official who worked at the Cabinet Office at the time of the meeting said he was present at the meeting and wrote the email sent from the Cabinet Office to the education ministry.

(Japanese original by Shusaku Sugimoto and Takuya Izawa, City News Department, and Minami Nomaguchi, Political News Department)

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