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Education ministry internal probe turns up no documents in Kake scandal

JIJI, Kyodo

An education ministry probe into allegations of collusion on the part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has turned up none of the documents cited by an opposition lawmaker as proof of wrong-doing, education minister Hirokazu Matsuno said.

But the Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party called for a new investigation.

Matsuno said Friday his ministry cannot confirm the existence of documents about a plan to set up a university veterinary medicine department to be operated by the Kake Educational Institution.

Kake Education Institution’s Okayama University of Science has applied to open the new department in April 2018 in a special zone in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.

One of the documents allegedly shows that the Cabinet Office told the ministry that the plan was the fastest option and reflected Abe’s wishes.

The institution is headed by a friend of Abe. The ministry’s probe also covered other related documents reported on by various media outlets.

The central government began looking for someone to operate the veterinary department in January, selecting the Kake Educational Institution just eight days later.

The Imabari assembly approved a plan in March to make the land available for free to the institution and offer a ¥9.6 billion subsidy for building costs. The city had acquired the land for ¥3.68 billion.

Charges of collusion center on Abe’s decades-long friendship with Kotaro Kake, the chairman of the institution. Abe described Kake as his “confidant” during an event in 2014 and they play golf and dine several times a year.

On Friday, Hiroshi Yoshimoto, director-general for policy coordination, interviewed seven officials involved in negotiations with the Cabinet Office, which is in charge of the designation of strategic special zones.

They included the heads of the Higher Education Bureau and the bureau’s Technical Education Division, as well as the deputy director-general responsible for the bureau.

The probe found that those interviewed did not produce any such documents or share them with ministry officials, according to Matsuno.

The probe also covered all computer files in a shared folder used by related officials. But no investigation was carried out into files managed by individuals.

“With the requested investigation complete, I think a conclusion has been reached,” Matsuno said.

The DP lawmaker, Yuichiro Tamaki, cited the documents in a House of Representatives Education Committee meeting Wednesday.

In one of the documents, the Cabinet Office urged the ministry to accelerate work to approve the plan in line with the wishes of the highest-level official at the Prime Minister’s Office.

Abe has dismissed the allegations as “nonsense,” a source in the Prime Minister’s Office said.