Japan's Abe denies exerting pressure on gov't to open new school at friend's university

Source: Xinhua| 2017-05-29 17:30:14|Editor: MJ
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TOKYO, May 29 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday denied allegations that he had exerted pressure on the government so that an institution run by his friend could open a new, heavily subsidized school.

Following a heavy bombardment from the four main opposition parties last week, who collectively believe Abe may have used his influence on behalf of his school operator friend, the prime minister claimed Monday such allegations were inaccurate.

Abe was quoted as telling a parliamentary session Monday that he had not used his or his office's clout to "exert pressure on the government" so that school operator Kake Educational Institution could launch a new veterinary medicine department at the Okayama University of Science.

The institution which operates the university has Kotaro Kake as its chairman and he is known to be a close personal friend of Abe's.

The opposition camp have been rallying together over the latest scandal involving the prime minister and a school operator and believe a key witness should provide testimony in the Diet.

Kihei Maekawa, a former vice education minister, has formerly said that documents existed linking Abe to the decision to approve the construction of a new, heavily-subsidized veterinary medicine school at Okayama University of Science.

The four top opposition parties concluded that there remained a great deal of suspicion regarding potentially shady procedures for the new school to be built, with Renho, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, stating that her party will meticulously look into the issue further to determine the exact level of impropriety committed by the prime minister and or his office.

The Democratic Party, the Japanese Communist Party, the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party have jointly said that Maekawa should be summoned to the Diet to give sworn testimony as a witness.

Maekawa had previously said that he would give testimony in parliament if summoned and double-down on his knowledge of the evidential documents.

But Abe's government has, thus far, managed to side-step the latest opposition-launched offensive, however, with the Liberal Democratic Party's Diet affairs Chief, Wataru Takeshita, telling his opposite number in the Democratic at the end of last week that an initial probe by the education ministry could not confirm the existence of the documents.

Based on this, he said it would be unnecessary to summon Maekawa as a witness despite his willingness to give sworn testimony.

The government's top spokesperson Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, also told a press conference Friday that the documents being referred to were insubstantial and underscored the fact that the education ministry's probe into the matter had largely been concluded.

On Monday, in response to a question by opposition Democratic Party lawmaker, Yuichi Mayama, Abe kept up the government's line that the education ministry could not confirm the existence of the documents.

This, despite the fact that Maekawa is willing to swear they exist and has knowledge of their potentially incriminating contents.

According to Maekawa, an education ministry advisory panel was currently assessing an application to open the new veterinary school and the ministry had prepared a document stating that the Cabinet Office said that Abe backs the plan.

The document also reportedly suggests that the education ministry was told by the Cabinet Office that the choice for the new department "was heard to have been the prime minister's wish."

The Democratic Party also maintains that the document in question shows that negotiations had taken place between the ministry and the Cabinet Office regarding the set timeframe for opening the new department at the university.

As for the timing for opening of the new department at Okayama University of Science, which was scheduled for April 2018, one document reportedly states, "This is what the highest level of the prime minister's office has said."

Another document mentioned that opening the department at an early juncture was "in line with the prime minister's wishes."

Okayama University of Science was specifically chosen by the government to open a new veterinary medicine school, for the first time in 50 years, in Ehime Prefecture.

The prefecture is one of Japan's national strategic special economic zones, which has far more relaxed regulations to boost growth in the area, as part of Abe's overall growth strategy.

Kake Educational Institution, chaired by Abe's close friend, was selected for the project in a meeting held between the central and local governments in the special strategic zone in Ehime in January, according to official accounts.

The local city assembly then provided the land to the institution to build the new department for free. In addition, they provided a hefty 9.6 billion yen (86.24 million U.S. dollars) as a subsidy for construction costs, the accounts show.

Imabari, the second-largest city in Ehime, had initially acquired the land for some 3.68 billion yen.

The latest scandal follows Abe, his wife and other ministers being embroiled in an as yet unresolved cut-price state land deal with another private school operator in Osaka.

Moritomo Gakuen, the operator of a nationalist school in Osaka, said it had received a donation and the backing of Abe to open a new school on a piece of land owned by the government and sold to the operator for just a fraction of its appraisal value.

Abe's wife, at one point, was to be the school's honorary principle.