• Kyodo

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The main opposition Democratic Party filed a censure motion Tuesday against regional revitalization minister Kozo Yamamoto, who is in charge of special deregulation zones, in connection with allegations that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may have swayed the approval of a university project in one of the zones.

The motion was expected to be voted down by the ruling coalition in a plenary session of the Upper House on Wednesday.

The education ministry is currently scouring internal files and questioning officials in response to the claim that documents exist implying Abe using undue influence in the decision to approve a new department at a university run by Kake Gakuen, a school chain headed by his close friend Kotaro Kake.

The government approved the plan to open the country’s first new veterinary department in more than 50 years in an area of Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, that was made into a specially deregulated economic zone as part of Abe’s growth strategy.

Opposition parties have also called for former top education ministry bureaucrat Kihei Maekawa to be summoned to the Diet to give sworn testimony.

Maekawa and several other ministry officials have said they are aware of such documents, which they say were shared within the ministry. One of the documents cited by opposition parties allegedly says that opening the new department at an early date was “in line with the prime minister’s wishes.”

The education ministry said it failed to find the documents after an initial search last month, but then announced Friday that it was launching a fresh probe, the results of which it would “promptly” make public.

The government has dismissed suggestions that an independent party should oversee the ministry’s new investigation, stressing that the probe is not investigating illegal activity.

The allegations of favoritism have captured headlines since an opposition lawmaker first made the claim on May 17.

In a poll conducted by Kyodo News late last month, 77 percent of respondents were not convinced by the government’s explanation that it could not confirm the files’ existence.

Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda was the subject of a separate censure motion Tuesday, submitted by the DP and Japanese Communist Party over his handling of the deliberation of the conspiracy bill, which would criminalize the planning of crimes.

This action effectively delayed a vote on the bill in the Upper House’s Judicial Affairs Committee.

The government is framing the bill as a necessary legislative tool to thwart potential terrorist attacks, though opponents say it could be used to suppress civil liberties.

Ruling coalition lawmakers said Saturday the government had decided to extend the current Diet session, originally set to end June 18, by around 10 days to ensure the bill’s passage.

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