OSAKA – Osaka officials Friday launched an on-site investigation into allegations of fraud involving private school operator Moritomo Gakuen’s construction costs for a new elementary school.
The prefectural investigation comes as Diet members weigh calling for a parliamentary investigation into allegations made by Moritomo head Yasunori Kagoike in sworn testimony earlier this month that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, Akie, donated ¥1 million to the new school. Both have denied the allegations.
Friday’s investigation took place at Moritomo Gakuen headquarters with Kagoike present as prefectural officials looked into whether he committed fraud when submitting three different figures to three different entities detailing the construction costs for a new elementary school he wanted to build in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture. The school was scheduled to open this month.
In a contract submitted to the land ministry, total construction costs were estimated at ¥2.38 billion. In a separate contract sent to Osaka Prefecture, the estimated construction costs were just ¥750 million. A third contract, sent to Kansai Airports, a regional authority that sold Moritomo the land for the school, siad the costs would come to around ¥1.55 billion.
Kagoike refused to explain these discrepancies in his March 23 Diet testimony, citing possible criminal prosecution. There is suspicion, however, the higher figure was given to obtain assistance from the central government. Moritomo had received about ¥56 million in subsidies. That money was returned several days ago.
“The last time the prefecture tried to conduct an on-site investigation, in early March, it was canceled after officials judged they could not conduct a proper investigation after they started being filmed and photographed (by Moritomo officials),” Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui told reporters Friday morning.
Osaka’s investigation comes as the ruling and opposition parties consider whether to launch a formal parliamentary investigation into the veracity of Kagoike’s claims during Diet testimony that Akie Abe had handed him a cash donation of ¥1 million on Sept. 5, 2015, when she spoke at a Moritomo-run kindergarten.
Kagoike made the statement in sworn testimony, which could lead to prison if he is found guilty of perjury. Akie Abe and the prime minister have repeatedly denied the allegations.
Kagoike has also implied it was his connection to the Abes that helped him buy the ¥956 million chunk of land from the government for a mere ¥134 million. Akie had served as honorary principal of Moritomo’s new elementary school until resigning after intense media scrutiny of the deal began in February.
With unanswered questions about what really happened dragging down the prime minister’s approval ratings, ruling and opposition party leaders are suggesting a parliamentary investigation could be in order.
“Such an investigation by the Diet is necessary. If false testimony (by Kagoike) is confirmed, we will think about prosecution,” Liberal Democratic Party Lower House lawmaker Yasutoshi Nishimura said earlier this week.
“I welcome a parliamentary investigation to clear up the truth,” Kazunori Yamai, the Democratic Party’s Diet affairs committee chief, told reporters Thursday.
A formal investigation would examine not only the allegation that Akie Abe donated ¥1 million in the prime minister’s name, but also whether Kagoike continued to advertise the new elementary school to potential donors as the “Shinzo Abe Elementary School” after he was denied permission to use Abe’s name.
The investigation would also call central government officials, and possibly local Osaka officials, to provide testimony over the shady land deal.
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