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Education official apparently helped school win grant in return for son's admission

Futoshi Sano

TOKYO -- A senior education ministry official arrested on suspicion of accepting bribes from Tokyo Medical University apparently pushed for the school to be selected as a recipient of a multimillion yen ministry grant, investigative sources have told the Mainichi.

The special investigative unit of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office suspects that Futoshi Sano, 58, used his influence as the director-general of the minister's secretariat at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) to help the medical school win a 35 million yen ministry grant for the strengthening of the university's brand in November 2017.

Sano was allegedly asked by a Tokyo Medical University official in May 2017 to make efforts so that the school will be awarded the ministry's grant for private universities to improve their public image using their research projects. In return for the request, Sano allegedly had his son enrolled in the medical school, with the applicant's score padded at the entrance examination in February of this year. The prosecutors office made a rare decision that the backdoor admission constituted bribery to the senior education bureaucrat.

Prosecutors are also questioning Tokyo Medical University officials in the bribery case. Some of them are being investigated at home due to their advanced age.

Under the MEXT branding program for private universities, between 20 million yen and 50 million yen per year per school is awarded for up to five years. In fiscal 2017, 188 universities vied for 7.9 billion yen offered under the program, and 60 institutions, including Tokyo Medical University, were selected. The school unsuccessfully applied in the previous year.

A committee of some 10 experts evaluates applications from universities, and the ministry makes the final selection based on the committee's recommendations. Prosecutors suspect that Sano used his broad power as the director general of the minister's secretariat, whose authorities include making arrangements related to personnel changes and budget formulation, so that the medical school could win the grant.

According to prosecutors at the special investigation unit, Sano was introduced to the school by Koji Taniguchi, 47, former executive of a medical consulting company in Tokyo who is under arrest in the same case on suspicion of assisting with the bribery.

In a meeting at the prime minister's office on the morning of July 5, State Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Toshiei Mizuochi expressed regret over Sano's arrest.

"I would like to sincerely apologize," he said.

(Japanese original by Kenji Tatsumi, Kazuhiro Toyama and Suyon Kim, City News Department)

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