TOYONAKA, OSAKA PREF. – The head of scandal-tainted Moritomo Gakuen, Yasunori Kagoike, told a delegation of Diet members in Osaka Thursday that he received a donation from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to help build an elementary school that promotes a nationalist education.
Abe has denied the claim, according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
Kagoike made the comments to nearly a dozen visiting lawmakers at the site of a Moritomo-run elementary school , which is embroiled in a land scandal that has reached the highest levels of government.
He said that while the plan to open the new school in April was called off, the structure was built and the scandal has affected all of the companies involved in its construction.
“We tried to build this school to everyone’s intentions. I’m announcing that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s donation was included,” Kagoike said in remarks picked up by news cameras from the grounds of the Mizuho no Kuni elementary school.
During his regular news conference in Tokyo late Thursday afternoon, Suga dismissed the claim. Suga told reporters that when he asked Abe about the matter, the prime minister denied making any donation himself, through his wife Akie or any other third party.
The Diet delegation, led by Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Ichita Yamamoto, departed for Tokyo without immediately commenting on the matter. Kagoike did not speak to reporters immediately after the visit.
Despite the denial, Kagoike’s comment is sure to refocus Diet inquiries into Moritomo back on the prime minister and possibly his wife Akie, who served as honorary principal of the new elementary school before resigning last month. Akie also spoke at the school in September 2015.
Kagoike’s claim comes after a sudden visit to Tokyo on Wednesday, where he met with freelance journalist Tamotsu Sugano after canceling an appearance at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.
On Wednesday night, Sugano told reporters that Kagoike had told him that another politician, a Cabinet member, was involved in the scandal in which Moritomo was able to purchase land from the government valued at ¥946 million for only ¥134 million.
Abe has said neither he nor his wife was involved in the land deal.
Earlier this month, it was revealed Kagoike had lobbied LDP Diet member Yoshitada Konoike, whose district is in neighboring Hyogo Prefecture, on 15 occasions over the state land acquisition deal. Konoike has strongly denied he took money to intervene in the sale of the land.
In Osaka, the Diet delegation met with prefectural officials who grant approval to private school proposals, as well as representatives of the Kinki Regional Finance Bureau, which was involved in the sale of land, not far from Osaka’s Itami airport.
Officials deny that they were pressured by Diet members to give Kagoike a substantial discount on the land. They added that if Moritomo Gakuen is found to have forged documents in its application for approval, it would not be allowed to reapply for five years.