National / Politics

Kagoike links Osaka governor, Diet members to widening land scandal, says employees knew about alleged Abe donation

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui and three current and former Osaka Diet members were named by Moritomo Gakuen head Yasunori Kagoike on Thursday as being involved in a shady land deal that has shaken the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Osaka’s relationship with the ruling coalition.

With Tuesday’s revelations, the scandal looks set to pick up steam as opposition parties attempt to confirm Kagoike’s claims and increase pressure on Abe to summon those in Osaka named, including Matsui, other members of his party and Osaka bureaucrats involved with Moritomo, to appear before the Diet.

In addition, there are calls in Osaka and elsewhere to have the prime minister’s wife, Akie, testify about Kagoike’s statement that he personally received a ¥1 million donation from her in an envelope. Kagoike indicated to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Thursday evening that other employees at the school knew about the donation, which the prime minister has denied and about which his wife had said she has no recollection.

On her Facebook page Thursday night, however, she issued a clear denial of Kagoike’s statement.

In sworn testimony to the Upper House, Kagoike blamed Matsui for Moritomo’s rejected application to open a new school, despite earlier signs from bureaucrats that the application was sufficient to meet their requirements.

Fraud allegations forced Kagoike to withdraw the application earlier this month and abandon the plan to open to the school.

The allegations center on revelations that Kagoike provided conflicting estimates for construction costs as well as questions about how Moritomo was able to purchase land valued at ¥956 million for ¥134 million. “We were 99 percent ready to go (with the opening), when Matsui pulled the ladder out from under me,” Kagoike said.

“Kagoike-san, perhaps you have a grudge against me because I pulled the ladder away,” Matsui replied via Twitter. “But it’s natural to do a review of the application process if the application is found to be thick with false statements.”

The three different construction estimates were submitted to different entities. Kagoike told the central government the cost would be around ¥2.3 billion. But he told the prefectural government it would cost only ¥756 million. To Kansai Airports, the operator of Itami airport, which managed the plot, the estimate was ¥1.5 billion.

In addition, Kagoike said he asked for unspecified cooperation from Osaka-based Liberal Democratic Party member Takuji Yanagimoto, who chairs an Upper House committee on constitutional reform, and Issei Kitagawa, a former deputy transport minister in the chamber who retired last year.

Kagoike also said he contacted Nippon Ishin Upper House member Toru Azuma for assistance. At a Thursday afternoon news conference, however, Azuma denied he did anything for Kagoike.

“I met Kagoike once when I was a member of the prefectural assembly, about five years ago, but that doesn’t mean I did anything unfair. I heard he had a plan to open a new elementary school, and that the prefectural rules regarding the establishment of private schools were strict. But I didn’t know the details or what kind of school it was. I was never asked to do anything on Kagoike’s behalf,” Azuma said.

There are now calls to summon Matsui to provide testimony on the prefecture’s role in the scandal, as well as past officials from the Kinki Regional Finance Bureau in selling the land at a huge discount. Matsui has indicated he would be willing to testify if called.

Also Thursday, Eiichi Kajita, head of the Osaka Prefectural Government’s private school division, provided unsworn testimony to the prefectural assembly, saying the original decision to approve the school with certain conditions was unprecedented. He added that it came with the understanding that the Finance Ministry had completed the land purchase with Moritomo Gakuen.

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