TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on May 22 denied that he met with his longtime friend Kotaro Kake in February 2015 in connection with the establishment of a veterinary school at the center of favoritism scandal, refuting new documents from the Ehime Prefectural Government.
The documents, submitted to the Diet on May 21, quote Abe as saying in February 2015 that the vet school plan was "good."
Speaking to reporters at his office, Abe stated, "I checked our visitor records but was not able to confirm (such a meeting with Kake)." The veterinary school operator, Kake Educational Institution, also denied the meeting took place in a statement released on May 21.
The entry on the meeting, if true, contradicts Abe's Diet testimony in July last year that Kake never told him about the veterinary school project and that the premier only learned of the plan when the government's Council on National Strategic Special Zones approved it on Jan. 20, 2017. That date is roughly two years after the Feb. 25, 2015 meeting recorded in the Ehime documents.
The prime minister has been accused by some opposition parties of being involved in the approval process for Kake's veterinary school project, which opened in April this year in a national strategic special zone in Imabari, in the western Japan prefecture of Ehime. Abe has repeatedly denied the allegation.
According to the new Ehime documents, which were obtained by the Mainichi, Abe told Kake during the February 2015 meeting, "The idea of such a new veterinary school is good." The information was attributed to an explanation made by Kake officials to Ehime prefectural officials in March that year.
An Ehime prefectural official said on May 22 that prefectural officials in charge simply honestly recorded what they heard and they have no reason to lie.
In the favoritism scandal, there have been other documents implying officials close to the prime minister were offering support for the vet school project.
Tadao Yanase, a former Abe secretary who now serves as the vice minister for international affairs at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, acknowledged that he met with Kake officials at the prime minister's office on April 2, 2015 along with Ehime prefectural and Imabari municipal officials. Earlier Yanase had denied having participated in such a meeting.
According to another Ehime Prefecture document, Yanase said in the April 2015 meeting that the veterinary school project is "a matter concerning the prime minister." "I intend to make it happen," Yanase was quoted as saying in the document.
In yet another document, Kake officials reported to the Ehime Prefectural Government through the city of Imabari that Kake officials met with Katsunobu Kato, who was a deputy chief Cabinet secretary for Abe, and discussed the school project. Kato now serves as minister of health, labor and welfare.
Ehime Gov. Tokihiro Nakamura told reporters on May 21 that the latest documents were discovered following a Diet request in May to search for documents related to the Kake affair. "I submitted the documents to the Diet, because the Diet, the highest authority of the government, requested them. Now it is up to the legislature to make a decision on the documents," Nakamura said.