Tokyo: The head of a Japanese educational foundation at the center of a real estate scandal told parliament he received a donation from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe via his wife, prompting a fresh denial from the top government spokesman.
Speaking under oath in the Diet for the first time on Thursday, school principal Yasunori Kagoike said that Akie Abe personally handed him an envelope containing 1 million yen ($9,000) in cash during her September 2015 visit to a kindergarten operated by the nationalist group. “She told me it was from Shinzo Abe," Kagoike said.
Afterward, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga reiterated previous denials. “The prime minister did not make a donation himself," he told reporters. “He did not donate through his wife Akie, nor through his office or a third party," he said, adding that it was his understanding that Abe’s wife didn’t made a donation in a personal capacity either. Abe said he had already explained himself and referred reporters to Suga’s remarks.
The allegations have dented Abe’s popularity and may prompt him to delay calling an election due by the end of next year. Questions over how the foundation, known as Moritomo Gakuen, was able to purchase publicly owned land in Osaka for a fraction of its market value have dominated parliamentary discussions for weeks.
Kagoike said he called Akie the month after her visit to seek help with buying land to build a new elementary school. He said he received a faxed response from her staff, who told him they contacted the finance ministry about the issue and were unable to comply with his request.
Government spokesman Suga said he regarded many parts of Kagoike’s testimony to be wrong. Akie’s staff had contacted the ministry without her instruction, according to Suga. He denied that this amounted to involvement in the land deal and said the issue wouldn’t affect the Abe administration.
Kagoike said he was “a bit surprised" later to find the foundation had been able to buy the tract for 134 million yen, which was a discount of about 800 million yen. When asked whether there was political involvement in the deal, he told lawmakers that he thought there was.
Renho, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, said the fax raised suspicions that Akie had intervened in the deal, adding that she should be called to testify in parliament, according to Kyodo News.
Kagoike first made the allegations of the donation in a meeting with opposition lawmakers last week. Suga said at the time that he had “absolutely no idea" what Kagoike based his remarks on, and Abe’s denials prompted lawmakers to summon the school head to clarify the matter under sworn testimony. The prime minister has also said he’d step down if any link emerges between himself and the real estate transaction.
Financial markets had little reaction to the latest remarks. Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average closed 0.2% higher in Tokyo, while the yen gained 0.1% against the dollar at 7:13 pm local time.
Kagoike told lawmakers he had at one point used Shinzo Abe’s name while fund-raising for the school, without gaining his permission. Akie Abe had been set to act as its honorary principal, but dropped the plan as the scandal came to light.
A poll conducted by the Yomiuri newspaper on 18-19 March found that support for Abe’s cabinet had fallen to 56% from 66% the previous month, as news emerged of links between Moritomo and defence minister Tomomi Inada. Inada said this month that she acted for the foundation in a law case years ago, after retracting earlier remarks denying she represented the group.
Inada also said Kagoike attended one of her political fundraising parties. Abe has already denied in parliament making a donation directly or through his wife.
The Tsukamoto kindergarten is known for making children bow to portraits of the emperor and recite a 19th century imperial decree on education—practices dropped elsewhere after Japan’s World War II defeat. Last month, the kindergarten apologized for using expressions that “could cause misunderstanding among foreigners." Kyodo news agency reported that the principal had been questioned over alleged slurs against Koreans and Chinese.
Lawmakers summoned Kagoike to parliament under his real name, which is Yasuhiro Kagoike. The school operator told lawmakers he had been a “big fan" of Abe, but had decided to make his case public after the prime minister referred to him in parliament as “extremely pushy." Bloomberg