The education ministry confirmed Tuesday the existence of a newly reported ministry document suggesting the involvement of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the Kake Gakuen scandal, further deepening suspicion of alleged government favoritism for the Okayama-based school operator.
On Monday, public broadcaster NHK reported that it obtained a document that was produced by a ministry official last year which allegedly provides a summary of what Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda told Yutaka Tokiwa, head of the higher education bureau, during a meeting on Oct. 21.
“We’ve found a file identical to the document in an (online) shared folder of the Technical Education Division,” education minister Hirokazu Matsuno told a news conference on Tuesday.
If the allegation in the document is true, it would mean Hagiuda, a close aide to the prime minister, indicated that Abe had already chosen Kake Gakuen for a special deregulation project as of October, months before a ministry panel officially reviewed the application.
The school operator applied for a new veterinary department at one of its universities and received the first such approval from the government in 52 years.
The document quoted Hagiuda as saying “the prime minister set the deadline” for the department’s opening at April 2018.
“For that purpose, (Kake Gakuen) needs to file an application for a construction permit by March 2017,” Hagiuda was quoted as saying.
Hagiuda reportedly made those remarks three months before a government panel formally approved Kake Gakuen’s application.
According to the document, Hagiuda said the education ministry “got cold feet” in promoting the Kake Gakuen project while the “Prime Minister’s Office has said it is determined to carry it out at any cost.”
On Tuesday, Hagiuda denied that he made the remarks.
“I have never been given any instruction by the prime minister concerning Kake Gakuen,” Hagiuda said in a statement.
According to Hagiuda, the education ministry has apologized to him by saying the content of the document in question “was remarkably erroneous.”
This is not the first time Hagiuda has denied that he put any pressure on the education ministry to favor Kake Gakuen.
On Thursday the education ministry released an email sent by a Cabinet Office official in November. The official claimed that the Cabinet Office revised government regulations for allowing a university to open a new veterinary department based on “an instruction” from Hagiuda.
The revisions reportedly favored Kake Gakuen as they disqualified rival Kyoto Sangyo University because nearby Osaka Prefecture University already has such a department. Hagiuda denied making such a direction.
Given the discrepancies between education ministry records and Hagiuda’s denials, experts and journalists have called for a third-party investigation into the alleged government favoritism.
But on Tuesday Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga rejected the proposal, saying that both education minister Matsuno and Cabinet Office minister Kozo Yamamoto “have already conducted investigations assuming their own responsibilities.”
Kake Gakuen, whose formal English name is Kake Educational Institution, is chaired by Kotaro Kake, a close friend of the prime minister.
Opposition lawmakers have maintained that Abe’s government picked Kake Gakuen for the special deregulation project because of its ties to Abe.
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