National

Osaka governor blocks opening of scandal-tainted school until after review

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui said Monday he will not approve the opening of an elementary school at the center of a national political scandal involving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife, Akie.

“The whole project has to be reviewed, and this will take a while, making early approval to start the school physically difficult,” Matsui told reporters in the morning.

The final decision is not expected to come until March 23, when the prefectural government’s panel on private school approval is scheduled to meet, but Matsui’s announcement all but ensures the school will not open in April as scheduled.

Meanwhile, in the Diet on Monday, opposition parties continued their calls for a government investigation into the scandal and for Moritomo Gakuen officials, including its head, Yasunori Kagoike, to appear before the Diet.

It was also learned Monday that while Moritomo Gakuen estimated the construction costs for the school buildings to be about ¥1.5 billion as the basis for seeking a central government subsidy, it reported to Osaka Prefecture that the actual cost would be only about ¥756 million.

“It’s not a situation where we can approve of Moritomo’s claims as they now stand,” Matsui said of the discrepancy.

Abe has said that while the Board of Audit should look into the price and the process of the state-owned land sale, there is nothing the government can do beyond that, and there are no plans to call Kagoike to testify.

Matsui made his statement as questions surrounding Mizuho no Kuni Elementary School in Toyanaka, Osaka Prefecture, continued to shake Japan’s political world.

Mizuho no Kuni is run by Moritomo Gakuen, a nationalist educational operator that teaches a prewar, nationalist and right-wing agenda. Akie Abe had been listed as honorary principal of the planned school until removing her name recently, and she spoke to the students at a Moritomo Gakuen-run kindergarten in Tsukamoto, Osaka Prefecture, on at least two occasions.

Moritomo Gakuen purchased property last June to build Mizuho no Kuni Elementary School from the government for ¥134 million, even though it was valued at ¥956 million, prompting tough questions in the Diet and in Osaka Prefecture about whether the school and Kagoike received a discount due to political pressure on the central government from members of Matsui’s Osaka Ishin no Kai political party or Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.

Matsui also said Monday the prefecture has to investigate Moritomo Gakuen’s claim in documents it submitted in February that it had an agreement with Aichi Prefecture-based Kaiyo Academy, a private boys school for junior high and high school students modeled after British and North American prep schools, to recommend students from Mizuho no Kuni Elementary School.

On its website Monday, Kaiyo Academy issued a statement denying earlier media reports about Moritomo Gakuen’s claim of an agreement.

“Such reports are completely unfounded. There is no agreement or negotiations (with Moritomo). In addition, we have no agreements with specific schools to accept such students and we don’t have plans to set up such agreements,” the statement said.