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Critics slam Japan PM Abe for dodging accountability over scandals with exit decision

The building for an elementary school that school operator Moritomo Gakuen had planned to open is seen from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, on Feb. 18, 2020. (Mainichi)
Toshio Akagi is pictured in this photo provided by his family.

People raising questions over a series of favoritism scandals linked to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have expressed anger and frustration over his Aug. 28 announcement that he intends to leave his post for health reasons, accusing him of sweeping the scandals under the rug and evading responsibility.

    One scandal relates to the heavily discounted sale of state-owned property to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which became public knowledge in 2017. The property in the Osaka Prefecture city of Toyonaka was sold to the Osaka-based institution with a huge discount of roughly 800 million yen (approximately $7.58 million). The Diet erupted in turmoil over the murky sale when it emerged Prime Minister Abe's wife Akie had earlier been appointed as honorary principal of an elementary school that Moritomo Gakuen was planning to open on the property. The scandal drove Abe to state during a Diet session, "If I or my wife were involved (in the land sale), I would resign as prime minister and as a Diet member."

    It later emerged that documents related to the approval of the discounted deal had been doctored at the behest of the Finance Ministry. Toshio Akagi, an official at the Kinki Local Finance Bureau, troubled over being involved in the doctoring of the documents, took his own life at age 54 in March 2018.

    Toyonaka Municipal Assembly member Makoto Kimura, who filed a lawsuit that led to the uncovering of the scandal, expressed frustration, saying, "I cannot accept (Prime Minister Abe's) resignation while he is turning his back on shedding light on the truth." A court ruling on the case, which found the central government's nondisclosure of justifiable grounds for offering the discount illegal, has been finalized.

    "I have little choice but to suspect that the prime minister was involved in the discounting process," Kimura added.

    The late local finance bureau official's 49-year-old wife, Masako, released a comment through her attorney, stating, "I would like the next prime minister to carry out fair and unbiased investigations to find out why my husband was driven to take his own life."

    Following the Moritomo case, another favoritism scandal involving Abe surfaced in connection with a veterinarian school that opened in the Ehime Prefecture city of Imabari in April 2018 as part of Okayama University of Science. The school is operated by Kake Educational Institution, which is based in the western Japan city of Okayama. Kotaro Kake, chairman of the university operator, is Abe's close friend. Documents supposedly containing accounts from the prime minister's secretary, in which the secretary called the establishment of the vet school a "matter concerning the prime minister," and from Abe himself, in which he apparently told Kake that opening a new vet school was "a good idea," remain at the Ehime Prefectural Government.

    When asked about Prime Minister Abe's resignation, Atsuhiko Kurokawa, 41, co-head of a citizens' group working towards holding those involved in the Kake scandal accountable, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "Questions regarding the matter remain unanswered. There's a fear that when he is no longer the prime minister, the matter will not get as much attention, allowing people to forget about it."

    In 2019, suspicions surrounding the government's annual cheery blossom-viewing parties surfaced, with the finding that a large number of those related to Prime Minister Abe's support group were invited to the state-funded event. Professor Hiroshi Kamiwaki of Kobe Gakuin University, who has filed a criminal complaint accusing Abe of breach of trust over the sakura parties, said, "His accountability (over the scandals and suspicions) will not disappear even if he resigns. Mr. Abe should explain them himself."

    (Japanese original by Kohei Chiwaki, City News Department, Shiho Matsumoto, Osaka City News Department, Ryoko Kijima, Matsuyama Bureau, and Mei Nammo, City News Department)

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