Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied Friday that he and his wife ever made a donation to the beleaguered principal of an Osaka-based school operator to help him build a nationalist elementary school at the center of a cut-rate land deal that has captured the nation’s interest.
Abe’s latest assertion amounts to a stark denial of the claim leveled Thursday by Yasunori Kagoike, principal of scandal-hit school operator Moritomo Gakuen, that he had received a donation worth ¥1 million under Abe’s name.
“I have never met him in person. I have no personal relationship with him. That I would proffer that large of a donation to a person like that is inconceivable,” Abe said in response to questions from Democratic Party lawmaker Nobuyuki Fukushima during a meeting of the Lower House committee on security.
Abe also denied that his wife, Akie, ever contributed a donation to Kagoike even in a private capacity, noting that no receipt of such a donation exists. The prime minister also made a point of voicing his displeasure with Kagoike, saying he was “very confused” by the principal’s sudden mention of his name.
The Moritomo Gakuen saga, which is arguably the biggest scandal the so-far impervious Abe government has faced, took a drastic turn Thursday when Kagoike, who has come under fire for indoctrinating children at his kindergarten to idolize the prime minister, suddenly turned against him and claimed Abe had made a donation to the Mizuho no Kuni elementary school.
The allegation is a serious charge. If confirmed, it could evolve into calls for Abe’s head, given that the leader promised last month at the Diet that he would “resign” as a politician if either he or his wife were implicated in the dubious land deal involving the new school.
In another key development, both chambers of the Diet agreed on Friday to summon Kagoike to testify under oath next Thursday.
This is a legally binding order that Kagoike has no option but to accept. Any attempt at a false statement on such an occasion would see him held culpable for perjury.
Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party had initially rejected a demand from opposition parties that Kagoike be summoned to the Diet.
The LDP, however, shifted its stance Thursday after the principal himself — as he emerged from a meeting with a delegation of opposition lawmakers in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture — declared that he will “reveal everything” before the Diet.
During a regular news conference, LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai vowed to continue to back Abe, saying that he has a greater faith in the words of the prime minister than those of “someone we have no close knowledge of.”
“Please, don’t speak of our prime minister in the same breath as someone like that,” Nikai said, with a note of barely concealed contempt.
“We must uncover the truth no matter what,” Nikai said of the Kagoike’s upcoming Diet appearance. “This is a matter that has huge implications for the dignity of the Diet, and we must carry this out in a way that will leave the public with no misgivings.”