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Abe's ex-aide to admit meeting Kake officials over vet school plan

Tadao Yanase (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Tadao Yanase, a former executive secretary to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is set to admit that he met officials from a school corporation at the center of Abe's favoritism scandal over its plan to establish a veterinary school in Ehime Prefecture, it has been revealed.

Yanase, who currently serves as vice minister for international affairs at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, has previously denied that he met officials from the school operator, Kake Educational Institution, at the prime minister's office in April 2015. However, after documents suggesting his meeting with Kake officials turned up at the Ehime Prefectural Government and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Yanase apparently found it difficult to keep denying his meeting with the school officials.

If the ruling and opposition parties agree to summon Yanase to the Diet, he will explain the matter in the legislature, according to a senior official of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

Upon news reports on April 10 on an Ehime Prefectural Government document indicating Yanase met officials from the prefectural government, the Imabari Municipal Government and Kake Educational Institution, Yanase released a comment saying, "As far as I can remember, I have never met officials from the Ehime Prefectural Government or the Imabari Municipal Government." While the Ehime Prefectural Government document suggested that Yanase told the officials that the Kake institution's plan to establish a new veterinary department in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, was "a matter concerning the prime minister," Yanase said, "There's no way I would have concrete talks with people from the outside, such as telling them that a case concerns the prime minister."

However, a separate document surfaced at the agriculture ministry with its content almost identical to that of the Ehime Prefecture document. Furthermore, it was found that a Cabinet Office email received by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology stated that Yanase had been scheduled to meet officials from the Ehime and Imabari governments and Kake Educational Institution on April 2, 2015.

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and five other opposition parties are demanding that Yanase be summoned to the Diet as a sworn witness. The ruling parties, however, intend to have Yanase appear in the legislature as an unsworn witness, remaining at odds with the opposition bloc.

Whether Yanase is to testify under oath or not, his Diet appearance now looks inevitable. Prime Minister Abe told a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on April 26, "Mr. Yanase would answer questions in a proper and sincere manner if he is to be summoned to the Diet. I want him to clarify all that he knows."

In July last year, when the Diet was questioning whether Yanase met the officials in question, he confided to those around him that he might have met the officials but that he didn't remember as he didn't exchange business cards with them.

On May 1, a senior LDP official commented on Yanase's April 10 statement, "He probably doesn't remember because the Ehime prefectural and Imabari municipal officials were behind Kake officials (at the meeting). Even if he admits his meeting with Kake officials, it wouldn't mean that he lied."

However, if Yanase acknowledges his meeting with Kake officials, suspicions that the approval process for Kake's plan to open a vet school in a national strategic special zone was premised on the Okayama-based school operator winning the green light for the establishment of the new department will only grow. Opposition parties are certain to grill the government over the details of Yanase's talks with those officials, possibly driving the Abe administration further into a corner.

(Japanese original by Akira Murao, Political News Department)

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