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PM's Diet statements fail to quell suspicions of favoritism toward school operator Kake

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso are seen at a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on May 14, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's statements in the Diet on May 14 failed to dispel suspicions that the government may have given favorable treatment to school corporation Kake Educational Institution in its establishment of a veterinary school in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.

Opposition parties are poised to continue demanding that Kotaro Kake, head of the school corporation and a close friend of Abe, and others concerned be summoned to testify before the Diet over the scandal.

In budget committees of both houses of the Diet on May 14, Prime Minister Abe emphasized there is no problem with the fact that Tadao Yanase, then executive secretary to the prime minister, met Kake officials at the prime minister's office on three occasions in 2015.

Yuichiro Tamaki, co-leader of the newly formed opposition Democratic Party for the People, pointed out that Yanase had not admitted until May 10 that he met with Kake officials and that Nobuhisa Sagawa, then head of the Finance Ministry's Financial Bureau, allegedly played a leading role in doctoring documents on the state-owned land sale to the Moritomo Gakuen school operator, apparently because they excessively surmised the prime minister's intentions.

"Mr. Yanase isn't the type of person who deserves being called by the governor (Ehime Gov. Tokihiro Nakamura) a 'liar,'" Tamaki told a House of Representatives Budget Committee session. "Did Mr. Sagawa tell a lie and doctor relevant documents at his own discretion?

"Didn't bureaucrats use dirty tricks to keep consistency with the prime minister's Diet statements?" the legislator continued.

In a House of Councillors Budget Committee session on the afternoon of May 14, opposition parties asked if the prime minister talked with Kotaro Kake about the school corporation's veterinary school plan. The prime minister answered, "I never talk with Mr. Kake about work."

The doctoring of the documents on the heavily discounted sale of a state-owned land lot to Moritomo Gakuen almost coincided with Abe's statement in the Diet in February 2017 that "I would resign as prime minister and a Diet member if I or my wife had been involved (in the land sale)."

Yanase's statement that "as far as I can remember, I have never met officials from the Ehime Prefectural Government or the Imabari Municipal Government" came in July 2017 shortly after the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) led by Abe suffered a crushing defeat in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election due largely to the favoritism scandals involving the Moritomo and Kake school operators.

Prime Minister Abe angrily responded to opposition parties' questions.

"It's hardly acceptable that you talk as if to say everything was done at my instruction. I'd like you to clarify when and where I gave such instructions in each individual case," he said.

Opposition parties suggest that the prime minister may have given favorable treatment to the head of Kake Educational Institution because he is a close friend of Abe, and the chief of Moritomo Gakuen because the school corporation once appointed the prime minister's wife Akie Abe as honorary principal of an elementary school the organization had planned to open.

Attention is also focused on allegations that administrative procedures may have been distorted because bureaucrats surmised the prime minister's intentions.

However, the prime minister has categorically denied having given any instructions in these cases while refusing to directly answer questions as to whether bureaucrats surmised his intentions.

On May 14, Prime Minister Abe emphasized that "I never select individual business operators."

Pointing out that the number of applicants for Kake's new veterinary department was nearly 20 times the number of places available, Prime Minister Abe said, "Doors had been closed to many applicants (for veterinary schools). We've rectified distorted administrative practices (by approving the establishment of the new veterinary school)." Abe appears to lack self-awareness that the prime minister himself could be a cause of the distortion of administrative procedures.

In a House of Councillors Budget Committee session on the same day, Ichiro Tsukada of the LDP pointed out that there are views among members of the public that bureaucrats have surmised the prime minister's intentions because he has been in power over such a long period.

In response, Prime Minister Abe said, "I need to respond more cautiously if such concerns are growing among members of the general public."

At the same time, Abe said, "You can hardly tell whether someone surmised your intentions. I never ask anyone to polish apples or flatter me. Needless to say, there's no way anyone can get promoted by doing so."

In the meantime, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso jeered at Tamaki saying, "He just wants to speak," as the opposition legislator was asking questions about the denuclearization of North Korea, resulting in a temporary halt to deliberations.

After the deliberations resumed, Tamaki criticized the Abe Cabinet over its response to questions by opposition parties. "As long as a member of the Cabinet adopts an attitude like that, we can't hold decent deliberations. It's the Abe administration that is derailing the Diet session," Tamaki said.

Takeo Kawamura, chairman of the committee, warned panel members and Cabinet ministers not to jeer excessively. "I'd like you all, including Cabinet members, to keep quiet while other people are talking during deliberations," he said.

(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Asahi, Political News Department, Masanori Makita and Akira Iida, City News Department, and Shinpei Ide, Business News Department)

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