OSAKA – Yasunori Kagoike, the former head of an Osaka-based educational institution at the center of a murky real estate deal — who claims Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife were involved in the deal — used to idolize Abe.
“I am where I am now because I’ve met him,” Kagoike said in a seven-hour-long interview with media outlets in May.
But the relationship abruptly ended on March 15, the day Kagoike — who was arrested Monday after being accused of fraudulently receiving public subsidies for his school businesses — talked with first lady Akie Abe on the phone one last time, he claims.
It was just when the scandal was heating up and after he resigned as chairman of Moritomo Gakuen, the school operator known for its prewar-style nationalist curriculum. At the time, Moritomo Gakuen was under investigation over the subsidy charges that led to this week’s arrests.
“It’s come so far, I’ll need to tell the truth,” Kagoike claimed to have told Akie Abe, referring to the ¥1 million donation he said he received personally from her in September 2015.
“What are you talking about?” she asked, according to Kagoike.
The first lady had been set to become honorary principal of the planned elementary school, and had been reported to have been on close terms with Kagoike’s wife, Junko, who was also arrested Monday.
“Isn’t there anything that can be done?” Akie Abe responded, according to Kagoike, a plea he turned down.
The end of the conversation was also the end of their relationship, he said.
The next day, Kagoike released the story of the ¥1 million donation, triggering a national uproar and a major political headache for the prime minister. In a Facebook post, the first lady denied giving any donation to Kagoike.
The relationship between Akie Abe and the Kagoikes dates back to before December 2012, when Shinzo Abe returned to office for his second term as prime minister.
Kagoike, who had been a staunch supporter of the prime minister and his policies, had approached the first lady about a plan to build an elementary school bearing the name of Shinzo Abe. While she said she could not back the plan to use his name, she hinted that it could be a possibility after her husband stepped down from his role and was no longer a public figure.
She had also visited the planned site for the elementary school with the Kagoikes and offered support. During a speech at a kindergarten operated by Moritomo Gakuen, she said her husband thought very highly of the school operator’s educational policy.
Kagoike and his wife Junko, the daughter of the founder of Moritomo Gakuen, have been jointly managing operations.
Junko Kagoike is known for her conservative views and has said in the past that she did not like women who demanded their rights, and asked mothers of children attending the kindergarten where she served as vice principal to be “dutiful wives and devoted mothers.”
She is also known for her temper, sending angry letters and scolding mothers she didn’t like, leading some families to remove their students from the school.
The Kagoikes’ relationship with the Abes, however, took a sharp turn in March when Kagoike withdrew the application to approve the opening of the new elementary school.
The couple showed up at an Abe rally on the last day of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly campaign in July, calling for the prime minister to step down.