The government will release the results of the reopened Kake Gakuen probe “as quickly as possible” but will not allow a third party to join the investigation, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga suggested Monday.
“The investigation at this time is not about any illegal acts but is an additional probe into whether the documents exist or not,” Suga told a news conference.
“So I think the education ministry will conduct” the investigation, he said, dismissing suggestions that allowing an independent third party to oversee the process would improve its credibility.
The Kake Gakuen issue is the latest allegation of favoritism to imply the involvement of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The probe was launched after documents reportedly leaked by the education ministry alleged that the prime minister expedited government approval for a project run by his friend. Abe and the ministry denied any involvement and said such documents did not exist.
Last week, after several news outlets ran reports suggesting the ministry documents did exist and were authentic, the government decided to reopen the investigation.
The material, allegedly drafted by education ministry officials last year, quotes Cabinet Office officials as saying that “highest-level” officials in the Prime Minister’s Office wanted to help Okayama-based school operator Kake Gakuen and approve its application for opening a veterinary department at one of its universities in a special deregulation zone.
Kake Gakuen, whose official English name is Kake Educational Institution, is chaired by Kotaro Kake, one of Abe’s closest friends. Their relationship has raised suspicions of government favoritism in the project.
At the news conference, however, Suga said the priority is to determine whether the education ministry has the documents or not. This suggests the government does not plan to probe the Cabinet Office during the renewed investigation into the education ministry.
According to the papers, it is Cabinet Office officials who put pressure on the education ministry to approve the Kake Gakuen project, by citing the intent of the top officials at the Prime Minister’s Office.
Suga said the ministry will search online folders shared by officials in the Technical Education Division of the education ministry, which handled the Kake Gakuen project, and by officials in other divisions.
But despite repeated requests from reporters and opposition lawmakers, he didn’t promise to search the hard drives of ministry officials’ computers for the documents.
The ministry insists this is unnecessary because shared “administrative documents” are supposed to be stored in shared folders on its servers.
But its definition of “administrative documents” appears to be much narrower than specified under the 1999 information disclosure law.
According to Article 2 of the law, “administrative documents,” which can be disclosed to the public, refer to records that are “held by the administrative organ concerned for organizational use by its employees.”
According to the ministry, however, any document held outside shared folders on a government server can be recognized as a private memo, which would not be covered by the law.
The Kake Gakuen documents “fall within the category of ‘administrative documents,’ and the traditional interpretation of the law would be greatly distorted if you argue that they don’t,” Yukiko Miki, head of the Tokyo-based nonprofit organization Access-Info Clearinghouse Japan, said in a statement released Friday.
Miki also maintained that any investigation into the papers should be neutral and conducted by a third party, not the ministry alone, so whistleblowers won’t be targeted for punishment.
“Both the education ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office are interested parties in this issue. You cannot trust an investigation by such parties,” Miki said.