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Olympics minister denies cash-for-favors allegation involving English teacher dispatch agency

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Olympics minister Toshiaki Endo, who formerly headed a shake-up of Japan’s English education program, has admitted taking cash from the founder of a Tokyo teacher dispatch agency but said he did nothing wrong.

Speaking during a Lower House Budget Committee meeting, Endo dismissed as “erroneous” an allegation leveled against him on Thursday by the daily Mainichi newspaper.

“The article is wrong and deeply regrettable,” he said.

He acknowledged that he accepted the cash and gift vouchers from the firm’s founder but denied wrongdoing, saying he declared them correctly in his political funds report.

The newspaper said the founder was communicating with Endo at a time when the company sought to boost the use of its assistant language teachers (ALTs).

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stepped in to defend Endo and insisted that his ministers observe the highest standards.

“My administration would never let cash affect its policies,” Abe told the budget committee session.

Endo, a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker, was appointed minister in charge of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in June last year.

In its article, Mainichi said he received a total of ¥9.5 million over five years from the founder of an unidentified Tokyo-based private company that dispatches ALTs to schools in the capital.

It said that Endo, who headed an LDP task force charged with revamping education in 2013, lobbied in return for more active use of ALTs and helped to swing the education ministry the same year into supporting a project the company was pushing, the article said.

It said Endo called publicly on multiple occasions for greater use of ALTs and approached education ministry officials outside of official meetings over the matter.

The allegation surfaced only a week after Akira Amari, a central player in Abenomics and Japan’s landmark agreement last year on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, stepped down as economic minister over a graft scandal.

One expert said there is no clear evidence that Endo did anything illegal, adding that an indictment is unlikely. However, the individual said if the allegations are borne out they would be a smear on his moral fiber.

Tomoaki Iwai, a political science professor at Nihon University, said Endo’s conduct did not appear to constitute any illegality — at least for now.

If anything, he may have violated a law prohibiting Diet members and their political secretaries from exerting influence over public contracts or another individual’s administrative decision, the professor said. But Endo’s position as a lawmaker is unlikely to be sufficient to establish that he had influence over the ministry, Iwai said.

“His morality, however, will be called into question,” Iwai added.

Responding to questions by Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Shiori Yamao, Endo insisted he did nothing wrong. He admitted taking the cash but said it was properly accounted for. He acknowledged playing a role in realizing a December 2013 policy goal by the education ministry to increase the use of ALTs.

In a statement on Thursday, Endo’s office insisted that the lawmaker did not repay the donor by lobbying the education ministry. It said the subsidies the ministry decided on did not cover the language company in question.