Ex-bureaucrat alleges Abe office’s involvement in new school approval

Kihei Maekawa, center, a former top bureaucrat at the education ministry, heads to a House of Representatives committee meeting in Tokyo on Monday to testify as an unsworn witness on allegations that Shinzo Abe used his power as prime minister to help a close friend open a university department. Photo: KYODO

Politics

Today 12:31 pm JST 28 Comments
TOKYO

A former top education ministry bureaucrat told the Diet Monday that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s office had significant influence over the government’s decision to approve a new department at a university run by his friend.

Abe’s aide was clearly involved in the approval process for the veterinary department at the Okayama University of Science in a government-designated special economic zone, said Kihei Maekawa, former vice minister of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

Attending as an unsworn witness, Maekawa told a Diet committee, “The prime minister’s office worked behind the scenes,” adding that the Cabinet Office, not the prime minister’s office, was responsible for dealing with issues related to special economic zones.

Kotaro Kake, chairman of Kake Educational Institution, which runs the university, is known as a close friend of the prime minister.

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party agreed to briefly reopen parliament for committee deliberations, as requested by opposition parties.

But the deliberations were held when Abe was away for a tour of European countries including participation in the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, prompting opposition parties’ demand for his attendance at a separate parliament session.

Appearing in the joint session of the House of Representatives’ Cabinet affairs and education committees, Maekawa reiterated that the review process was “unclear” and “unfair,” citing insufficient discussion of whether Kake Educational Institution met conditions to launch Japan’s first vet school in half a century.

During a similar session in the House of Councillors in the afternoon, the former top bureaucrat also said Hiroto Izumi, Abe’s assistant, urged him in September and October last year to speed up the procedure, saying he was making the request on behalf of Abe “because the prime minister cannot say it by himself.”

Abe has come under fire over suspicions he influenced the approval process for the opening of the new department at the university in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, western Japan.

Such suspicions have grown after the revelation of documents indicating that officials of the Cabinet Office pressured the education ministry ahead of the selection of Kake.

Maekawa has said he remembers having seen some of the documents while he was still working at the ministry.

The documents, which Maekawa insists are authentic, state the officials employed phrases such as “what the highest level of the prime minister’s office has said” and “in line with the prime minister’s wishes.” Abe and other Cabinet members have repeatedly denied wrongdoings.

It is the second scandal related to school operators close to Abe. He has drawn suspicion over his dubious ties with private school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which purchased state-owned land in Osaka at a dramatically reduced price. Abe’s wife Akie was named honorary principal of the elementary school that Moritomo planned to open at the site.

Maekawa resigned in January to take responsibility for a scandal in which the ministry systematically secured post-retirement jobs for its bureaucrats.

© KYODO

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