Spotlight: Japan's education ministry finds documents possibly implicating Abe in school favoritism scandal

Source: Xinhua| 2017-06-15 17:53:36|Editor: Zhang Dongmiao
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TOKYO, June 15 (Xinhua) -- Japan's education ministry on Thursday said that a second internal probe has tuned up documents that may show Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used his influence to aid plans to open a new school chaired by a close friend of his in a special deregulated zone in Japan.

The probe was relaunched after pressure from opposition parties, the media and the public, who criticized the education ministry for its first investigation not being thorough enough.

Suspicions mounted over repeated claims by the ministry that evidential documents central to the scandal didn't exist.

Following its first probe which lasted just two days, the ministry concluded that the existence of the documents in question could not be confirmed and both the prime minister and his top spokesperson denied the documents' existence.

Education minister Hirokazu Matsuno at a press conference on Thursday backtracked on his position however, and admitted that similar documents had been found despite the ministry failing to locate the papers during the first probe.

He apologized for the first investigation's monumental shortcomings.

The ministry's latest probe investigated a total of 19 documents and 19 officials in addition to seven others who were also interviewed regarding the scandal in previous probe.

Regional revitalization minister Kozo Yamamoto also said Thursday that the Cabinet Office is currently mulling conducting its own investigation over the documents.

Pressure was maintained on the education ministry before the end of the ordinary Diet session which ends on Sunday to further investigate the the opposition camp's allegations of favoritism given by the government due to Abe's influence and the documents that proved partiality was shown to the institution opening the new school.

Kihei Maekawa, a former vice education minister, at the beginning of the month reasserting that senior government advisors had pressurized him to accelerate procedures to open up a new school with close links to Abe.

Opposition parties later demanded that a fresh investigation be thoroughly conducted and the ex-bureaucrat be allowed to give sworn testimony in parliament.

Okayama University of Science was handpicked by the government to open the new veterinary medicine school, in Ehime Prefecture, 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, which operates the university and, controversially, is chaired by Abe's close friend, was selected for the project in a meeting held between the central and local governments in January.

The local city assembly provided the land to the institution to build the new department for free and in addition they provided 9.6 billion yen (87.56 million U.S. dollars) as a subsidy for the school's construction costs.

Maekawa said in a recent statement that last year in August, Isao Kiso, a special advisor to the Cabinet at the time, visited his office and requested that he accelerate procedures for the opening of a new veterinary school that would mark the first opening of such a school in 50 years.

He claimed that Kiso told him that his ministry need do nothing except follow the decision made by the Council on National Strategic Special Zones, which is chaired by Abe.

Maekawa has also stated that he met Hiroto Izumi, an assistant to Abe, at the prime minister's office, when the selection of the strategic zone was underway and was again pressurized to speed up procedures for the new school at that time.

The government however has refused to summon Maekawa or Izumi to give testimony in parliament as sworn witnesses, despite the opposition camp vociferously calling for it to do so.

It has also come to light that Abe had been on Kake's payroll and had received a salary for duties he carried out there for a couple of years after he was first elected to the lower house in 1993.

Abe when quizzed on his financial connections to the institution said it was a long time ago and that he was fuzzy on the details.