Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s struggles continued Tuesday at a special Diet session held to probe the Kake Gakuen scandal, as opposition lawmakers pointed out contradictions in his past remarks on when he learned about the school operator’s plan to apply for a special government deregulation project.

The opposition bombarded him Tuesday in the special session of the Upper House by citing a number of his previous statements, prompting Abe to “correct” his own words.

On Monday, Abe claimed for the first time that he learned about the application from Okayama-based Kake Gakuen — which is chaired by Kotaro Kake, one of Abe’s closest friends — as recently as Jan. 20 this year.

“It’s true there has been some confusion in my answers (to questions in the Diet). Let me apologize and correct them,” Abe said Tuesday.

In fact, Abe has given different answers several times in response to questions about when he learned of Kake Gakuen’s request for the government to scale back rules for opening new veterinary medical departments.

For example, on April 28 this year, opposition lawmaker Mizuho Fukushima, of the Social Democratic Party, submitted a written question to the central government asking when Abe learned of Kake Gakuen’s wish to open the department.

The written response from the government, formally approved by all Cabinet members, pointed out that the Imabari municipal government applied for a deregulation project to open the department in November 2007, mentioning Kake Gakuen as a candidate school operator. The proposal was eventually included in Abe’s own programs for promoting economic growth, which were adopted in 2015, according to the government’s written response to Fukushima.

On a separate occasion during an Upper House session on June 5, opposition lawmaker Sachiko Hirayama asked Abe when he learned of Kake Gakuen’s plans. Abe answered that he learned about it when Kake Gakuen and the Imabari municipal government “jointly submitted” an application for the latest deregulation program. Kake Gakuen formally confirmed its application on Jan. 10 this year, not on Jan. 20.

Opposition lawmakers suspect Abe’s fresh claim, that he didn’t know of the Kake Gakuen plan until Jan. 20, is a bid to deny alleged government favoritism toward the school operator.

During Tuesday’s Diet session, Akira Koike, a Japanese Communist Party lawmaker, pointed out that Kotaro Kake met agricultural minister Yuji Yamamoto on Aug. 23 last year, and regional revitalization minister Kozo Yamamoto on Sept. 7, each time mentioning Kake Gakuen’s plan to apply for the deregulation project. Meanwhile, Abe met Kake privately on July 21, July 22, Aug. 10, Aug. 11 and Oct. 2 last year, Koike noted.

“It’s unbelievable that (Kake) didn’t say anything about the veterinary medical department” plan during those private meetings with Abe, Koike said.

“If you say you didn’t know of (the application) until Jan. 20, that must clearly be a false statement,” asserted Renho, the head of the Democratic Party, the largest opposition force, during Tuesday’s Upper House session.

In January, Kake Gakuen won tentative approval from the government to open a new veterinary medical department for one of its universities in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture — the first time such government permission had been obtained in 52 years.

Kake Gakuen made similar applications for government deregulation projects 15 times from 2007 through 2014. All were rejected.

Meanwhile, Kake Gakuen received billions of yen in subsidies for the latest project from both the city and prefectural governments.

The details have raised suspicion that favorable conditions might have been intentionally set by the Abe administration for Kake Gakuen to be selected due to Abe’s close ties with the chairman.

Abe and his Cabinet ministers have all flatly denied wrongdoing.

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