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Japan defense chief Inada in crosshairs after Moritomo scandal flip-flop

by

Staff Writer

A court record linking Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and a scandal-tainted nationalist Osaka-based school operator emerged Tuesday, prompting Inada to withdraw an earlier denial of the link, as opposition lawmakers trained their fire on her for making a false statement before the Diet.

The court document, a copy of which was first posted by freelance journalist Tamotsu Sugano to his Twitter account Monday, showed that Inada and her husband, Ryuji Inada, both lawyers, had served as court attorneys in October 2005 for Moritomo Gakuen, the scandal-hit school operator headed by Yasunori Kagoike.

During an Upper House Budget Committee session Monday, Inada had vehemently denied ever serving as a court attorney or legal adviser to either Kagoike or Moritomo Gakuen.

But on Tuesday, Kyodo News, which apparently obtained court records from the same lawsuit, reported that Inada had attended a trial hearing as an attorney for Moritomo Gakuen.

During a Lower House plenary session later Tuesday, Inada admitted that she had attended a trial session in her husband’s place as an attorney for the embattled school operator.

Inada claimed she had erroneously made the denial because she had forgotten the incident.

“I’d like to correct this and apologize for it,” Inada said, adding that she hoped to continue to “sincerely perform” her duties.

Opposition forces are now ready to further grill Inada and prolong Diet deliberations in a bid to force her resignation.

However, the effectiveness of such tactics remains unclear, as the Abe Cabinet has appeared to weather the scandal so far, enjoying strong voter support in recent media polls.

During Tuesday’s session, Inada also admitted that the law office she jointly ran with her husband offered legal advice to Moritomo Gakuen from 2004 through 2009.

In the Diet, Inada has been repeatedly questioned by opposition lawmakers about her ties to Moritomo Gakuen, known for advocating ultranationalist, prewar values at its Tsukamoto Kindergarten in Osaka’s Yodoawa Ward.

Inada, too, has been known for her nationalistic views when it comes to Japan’s wartime history.

Facing reporters earlier Tuesday, Inada emphasized that she has nothing to do with the controversial land deal that has plagued the school operator.

Moritomo Gakuen has been in the public spotlight in recent weeks after the Asahi Shimbun reported last month that it bought an 8,770-sq.-meter lot in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, from the central government at a heavily discounted price.

The operator bought the parcel for an unusually low price of just ¥134 million from the Finance Ministry in June 2016.

This was about one-tenth of the price of comparable nearby land.

Opposition lawmakers have expressed suspicion that some powerful, conservative lawmakers may have put pressure on the Finance Ministry to offer the massive discount.

Akie Abe, wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, had served as the honorary principal of an elementary school that was scheduled to be built on the land — a fact that has fanned public uproar over the scandal, prompting her to quit the post late last month.

Also Tuesday, land minister Keiichi Ishii said the government will move forward with procedures to have Moritomo Gakuen repay about ¥56 million in subsidies.

The subsidies were awarded after the school operator submitted to the central government a contract with a quote for construction costs far greater than in documents presented to other entities.

In addition, the Osaka Prefectural Government is considering filing a criminal complaint against Moritomo Gakuen over inconsistencies in the documents, according to the prefectural board of education.

A senior member of the school board said Moritomo Gakuen appears to have underreported the cost of construction to the prefecture to make its financial state look more solid.

Information from Kyodo added