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Cabinet Office official's use of Kake vehicle raises legal, ethical questions

Yutaka Fujiwara is seen in the Diet in this June 16, 2017 file photo. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Regional revitalization minister Hiroshi Kajiyama revealed on May 14 that a then senior Cabinet Office official in charge of national strategic special zones used a car offered by Kake Educational Institution when he visited Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, in 2015 -- where the school operator later opened a veterinary school using the special zone system.

During a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on May 14, Kajiyama expressed his view that the use of a Kake institution vehicle by Yutaka Fujiwara, then deputy head of the Office for Promotion of Regional Revitalization at the Cabinet Office, during his visit to Imabari was inappropriate, adding that the government will investigate whether Fujiwara's actions posed any legal or regulatory problems.

It had earlier emerged that Fujiwara had taken a work trip to Kumamoto Prefecture on Aug. 5 and 6, 2015 as well as the city of Okayama, where the Okayama University of Science operated by the Kake institution is located, before traveling to Imabari, then the planned site for a new veterinary school to be run by the school operator. Opposition parties raised questions about whether there were any favors given by the Kake institution to Fujiwara during his trip there. Although Hiroshi Kawauchi, a legislator of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, posed a similar question during a lower house education committee session on May 11, the Cabinet Office continued to dodge the question on the grounds that investigations were underway.

At the May 14 budget committee session, Kajiyama revealed in response to a question by Komeito legislator Hiromasa Nakano that Fujiwara used a Kake vehicle intended for business use as part of his means of transport during his Imabari trip. Kajiyama said the question of whether Fujiwara's actions violated the ethical rules for national public servants or the Act on Travel Expenses of National Public Officers, etc. was under scrutiny.

"Even if there were no problems in terms of laws and regulations, it was necessary (for Fujiwara) to handle (the vehicle ride offer) carefully to avoid any suspicions being raised over his official duties due to his relationship with a private business operator," Kajiyama stated. Kawauchi said, "It should be thoroughly investigated whether there was any provision of food, drinks or goods to him, aside from the ride offer."

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe underscored the same day that he had not received any reports from his then secretary Tadao Yanase that he had met Kake officials at the prime minister's office on three occasions in 2015.

During budget committee sessions at both chambers of the Diet on May 14, opposition parties grilled the government over Yanase's unsworn testimony in the Diet on May 10 that he hadn't reported the meetings to the prime minister. Abe said on May 14, "Unless the matter is of grave national importance, I seldom receive explanations (from my secretaries) when such matters are ongoing." Although Abe admitted that he did receive briefings about the bigger picture of regulatory reforms including the Kake vet school plan, he said, "I never discussed any specific or concrete details, such as the city of Imabari or the Kake Educational Institution."

(Japanese original by Yusuke Matsukura, Political News Department)

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