Japan's Abe admits having been on payroll at school central to latest gov't scandal

Source: Xinhua| 2017-05-30 19:10:01|Editor: Zhou Xin
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TOKYO, May 30 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday said he had received a salary and been listed as an executive member of a school operator run by his close friend, which had been given preferential treatment to open a new department at a university.

Speaking at an upper house committee, the Japanese leader said he had received 140,000 yen (1,260 U.S. dollars) a year in the form of a salary from Kake Educational Institution which currently operates Okayama University of Science.

It was selected and offered heavy subsidies to open a new veterinary department.

Chairman of Kake Educational Institution Kotaro Kake is known to be a close friend of the prime minister.

"I was in charge of auditing or something else at the institution for a couple of years after I was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1993," Abe was quoted as saying in the House of Councillors Judicial Affairs Committee.

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

The disclosure that Abe had been receiving salary from the operator of the university has opposition parties riled.

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 as selected for the project in a meeting held between the central and local governments in the special strategic zone in January.

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

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Abe's top spokesperson, continued to deny that Abe had any influence over the government's decision to back the university project, suggesting that there was nothing wrong with the prime minister serving as an executive member of the institution and receiving a salary. However, Abe still refused to allow Kihei Maekawa, a former vice education minister, to testify over potentially incriminating documents.

The four main opposition parties believe Abe may have used his influence on behalf of his school operator friend, but the prime minister claimed Monday such allegations were inaccurate.

Maekawa has said that documents exist linking Abe to the decision to approve the construction of the veterinary medicine school and is willing to give sworn testimony in parliament, yet is not being allowed to do so. It made the opposition camp believe the deal may have been, potentially, extremely shady.

The Democratic Party, the Japanese Communist Party, the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party have all jointly demanded 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.

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 suggested 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 maintained that one of the documents 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, which was scheduled for April 2018, one document reportedly stated, "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."

In the latest offensive by the opposition camp on Tuesday, Democratic Party policy chief Hiroshi Ogushi demanded that that Hiroto Izumi, an assistant to Abe, be summoned to parliament based on reports that he repeatedly told Maekawa at the prime minister's office to accelerate preparations to open the new department.

Ogushi's demands were made at a press briefing on the matter, but Izumi, who overseas matters related to specially deregulated zones, has denied the reports, and was quoted as saying Tuesday, "It's hardly possible that I have especially mentioned Kake Educational Institution and urged him to push ahead the project."

The opposition camp have been rallying together over the latest scandal involving the prime minister and a school operator.

Abe, despite admitting he was once on the institution's payroll, has kept up the government's line that the education ministry could not confirm the existence of the documents.

Abe, his wife and other senior ministers were recently embroiled in another as yet unresolved cut-price government 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.

Regarding the current scandal and following a probe by the education ministry, the ministry has said it is still examining the initial application made by the school to open Japan's first veterinary department at a university in more than five decades.