An affiliated group of the Japan Veterinary Medical Association alleged Thursday that a Cabinet minister told its executives last November that the government had already decided to allow school operator Kake Gakuen to open a new veterinary department, in yet another twist to the continuing scandal.

At the same time Nihon Juishi Renmei (Japan Veterinary Medical League), the association’s affiliated organization for political activities, released what it says is an excerpt of the minutes of a meeting with Kozo Yamamoto, minister in charge of regional revitalization, which took place in Tokyo on Nov. 17.

That date is two months before the government officially announced it had chosen Kake Gakuen after publicly seeking applications for the special deregulation project.

If the contents of the minutes are accurate, it will deal another blow to the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe because it will further deepen public suspicion over alleged favoritism toward Kake Gakuen, which is chaired by Kotaro Kake, one of Abe’s closest friends.

Yamamoto, who is also in charge of the deregulation project, has repeatedly claimed during Diet sessions that the government chose Kake Gakuen in January after an open selection process.

Yamamoto’s claim directly contradicts comments attributed to him in the minutes, which allegedly were written on Nov. 18 based on a memo taken by an association member in the meeting held the previous day.

“We halted (the project) because of financial concerns, but now the city of Imabari is set to shoulder ¥3.6 billion for the land price and use ¥5 billion from a reserve fund, and the Ehime Prefectural Government will pay ¥2.5 billion,” Yamamoto was quoted as saying in the excerpt of the minutes, which was obtained by The Japan Times.

“The rest will be shouldered by Kake Gakuen,” Yamamoto was quoted as saying.

At that time Kake Gakuen was seeking government approval to open a veterinary department in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.

The department was set to open in Imabari partly because “now Shikoku is incapable of” preventing the spread of infectious diseases of animals across prefectural borders, Yamamoto was quoted as saying.

The minutes were written out after all of the attendants from the association confirmed the content of the draft as being true, said Naoto Kitamura, the head of Nihon Juishi Renmei on Thursday.

According to the minutes, those attending the meeting included association Chairman Isao Kurauchi and Kitamura.

Facing reporters in Tokyo on Thursday morning, Yamamoto denied the association’s allegation and claimed the quotes attributed to him in the minutes “are not accurate.”

The association executives apparently assumed the department would be opened by Kake Gakuen in Imabari, but Yamamoto claimed he never said that in the meeting.

“I clearly said Kyoto was possible, too, ” Yamamoto said. At that time, Kyoto Sangyo University was also considering applying for the deregulation project.

“I never said anything to specifically mention Kake Gakuen” because the decision would be made only after publicly inviting applicants, Yamamoto said.

But Yamamoto’s claim may be hard for the public to swallow after a series of revelations over alleged favoritism toward Kake Gakuen.

The Kake Gakuen scandal flared up in May after several internal documents prepared by the education ministry were leaked to major media outlets, all of which suggested the government favored Kake Gakuen and set preferential conditions for the school operator to be chosen for the deregulation project.

Abe has strongly denied the allegations, but public suspicion over the scandal has been widely considered a key factor that has dragged down the public approval rating of his Cabinet, according to the latest media polls.

The government now plans to allow Kake Gakuen to open the department in April next year. If it opens, it will be the first time in 52 years that a new veterinary department has opened in Japan.

The official English name of the Okayama-based school operator is Kake Educational Institution.

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