National / Politics

Opposition camp demands Abe's wife testify under oath over school land scandal

Kyodo

Opposition parties stepped up calls Thursday for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, Akie, to be summoned to testify in the Diet, after the head of a nationalist school operator reiterated under oath in the Diet earlier in the day that Akie Abe had handed over a donation for the organization on the prime minister’s behalf.

The ruling camp led by Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party dismissed the claim by Yasunori Kagoike, which was previously denied by Abe’s wife.

“The curtain did not close on the problem (with Kagoike’s testimony in the Diet), but rather just opened,” Democratic Party leader Renho said in a press conference, emphasizing the main opposition party’s resolve to pursue Abe over the scandal.

Despite Abe’s repeated denials, the Moritomo Gakuen chief told the Diet that the prime minister had donated ¥1 million ($8,900) through Akie Abe to help build a new elementary school.

“Mr. Kagoike’s testimony was one-sided. It is necessary to arrange an opportunity to confirm the facts with Madam Akie under the same conditions,” Renho said, calling on Abe’s wife to appear in parliament as a sworn witness.

The Osaka Prefecture-based school operator has been under fire since it was revealed that it paid a fraction of the appraisal price for land purchased from the state in the city of Toyonaka to open the school. The dubious land deal sparked suspicions of political interference and led to scrutiny of Kagoike’s ties with the Abes.

Akira Koike, the head of the Japanese Communist Party’s secretariat, said: “It is suspected Prime Minister Abe had something to do with (the land deal). We believe this is an extremely serious problem.”

Meanwhile, LDP Diet affairs chief Wataru Takeshita said: “It is clear that we have drawn a line. Nothing new has come out at all about the state-owned land.”

Hakubun Shimomura, executive acting secretary-general of the LDP, said, “I believe the people understood that the cut-price state land deal was not affected by political power.”

Kagoike’s comments were in sharp contrast with the explanation provided by the Prime Minister’s Office regarding the alleged donation.

Kagoike said Thursday that the prime minister’s wife handed over the money when they were alone together in a room at a Moritomo Gakuen kindergarten that she was visiting to make a speech. But Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga denied in a press conference that Kagoike and Akie Abe had met alone.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of the LDP’s junior coalition partner, Komeito, cast doubt on the credibility of Kagoike’s testimony, stating the chief of the school operator had “failed to present any supporting evidence.”

But an LDP lawmaker expressed concern over the possible negative impact on the Abe Cabinet’s support ratings. “The Moritomo problem will drag on. The prime minister will continue to be faced with difficulties.”

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