On-site investigation at Moritomo Gakuen suddenly cut short; new fraud claims emerge

by

Staff Writer

The ongoing scandal at Moritomo Gakuen, a private Osaka educational operation that advocates nationalist, prewar values, took a dramatic turn Thursday after an on-site investigation by Osaka prefecture of a Moritomo-run elementary school’s land deal was suddenly cut short.

“During the investigation, the vice principal at a Moritomo-run kindergarten who was at the meeting began taking photos of prefectural officials without their permission,” said Osaka prefectural private education official Kaoru Yoshimoto at a Thursday evening news conference. “Despite asking three times to stop taking photos, the official continued, damaging the investigation. We judged it was impossible to continue and called a halt to meeting.”

But Moritomo Gakuen President Yasunori Kagoike offered a different story.

“I brought various documents to show the investigators, but I wasn’t told to bring the originals,” Kagoike said. “I said I hadn’t heard they wanted the originals and the prefectural officials left.”

But Yoshimoto said that when prefectural officials asked to be shown original receipts, Kagoike’s wife Junko — who serves as vice principal — entered the room and started pointing her finger at officials, accusing them of leaking documents to the media.

“She suddenly started taking pictures of the officials and wouldn’t stop,” Yoshimoto said. “We contacted Moritomo Gakuen’s lawyer and said that if we could, we wanted to do a proper investigation.”

The prefecture’s decision to investigate came after news on Wednesday that Moritomo Gakuen submitted three sets of contracts with three different figures for construction cost estimates for the land beside its new elementary school. The documents were sent to the Osaka Prefectural Government, the land ministry and Kansai Airports, the operator of Itami airport which managed the land before the sale.

The contract sent to the land ministry, in the hope of receiving more subsidies to offset the expenses, said construction costs would total about ¥2.38 billion. The one sent to the Osaka Prefectural Government estimated costs at ¥756 million in the hope of easing concerns that the new school couldn’t afford the land. And the one sent to Kansai Airports, in the expectation of receiving noise-related subsidies, totaled about ¥1.55 billion.

After Thursday’s meeting, Kagoike refused to explain to reporters why the figures were different.

The prefectural investigation comes as Moritomo Gakuen and Kagoike are facing new allegations. The city of Osaka said Thursday it is looking into allegations that Kagoike’s wife accepted ¥10 million in municipal aid under the condition that she work regularly at an Osaka-affiliated nursery school. The announcement came after local media reports said she spent little time at the school, in violation of her agreement.

In Tokyo Thursday, opposition parties continued calling for the president of the school operator to appear before the Diet to explain how his company obtained a piece of land valued at ¥956 million for just ¥134 million.

The four main opposition parties — the Democratic Party, the Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party — are facing strong opposition from the ruling coalition, especially the Liberal Democratic Party, over the matter. Representatives of the opposition parties will visit Osaka on March 16.

Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui on Wednesday also said he supports calls for Kagoike to testify in the Diet.

“I want the Diet to decide to summon Kagoike as an unsworn witness,” he said. “It’s best to hear from him directly about the land deal.”

Elsewhere, Defense Minister Tomomi Inada also found herself under fire in the Diet for remarks she made Wednesday defending the spirit of Moritomo’s educational philosophy, saying that Japan needed to return to that spirit.

Inada made the remarks the same day in response to a report in the weekly Shukan Bunshun magazine that her husband, lawyer Ryuji Inada, represented a failed Moritomo Gakuen school in 2003 before she became a Diet member. Both have refused to comment on the report, citing lawyer-client privilege.

As concerns mount in Osaka and the Diet over the land deal, questions also remain over whether Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife Akie, who gave a speech at Moritomo’s kindergarten in September 2015, did so as private citizen or a public figure. She was accompanied by civil servants who paid their own way, but was introduced as the prime minister’s wife. Still, Abe has said in the Diet she went in a private capacity.

Akie appeared at three events in Tokyo Wednesday to celebrate International Women’s Day, but avoided direct answers about her role with Moritomo Gakuen and how she feels about Kagoike.

“People who are criticizing me have various differences in thoughts and ideas,” she said at one event.