• Kyodo

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In an unusual move, a lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has made inquiries into a lecture at a junior high school given by the former vice education minister who accused Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of favoritism in connection with the state’s approval of a rare veterinary project run by Abe’s friend, a government source said Sunday.

The education ministry said it asked the Nagoya Municipal Education Board to answer emailed questions about the purpose and content of former Vice Education Minister Kihei Maekawa’s private mid-February lecture at the school.

Maekawa had alleged that Abe’s office exercised significant influence in the government’s decision to approve the construction of a new veterinary department at a university in Shikoku run by Kotaro Kake, a close friend of Abe who is also chairman of Kake Educational Institution.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry’s unusual inquiry into the content of a specific school lesson was made earlier in the month after it learned about Maekawa’s lecture through a news report.

The government source said Sunday that the LDP lawmaker contacted the Nagoya education board before the ministry did, suggesting the ruling party may have prompted the ministry to take issue with the board’s decision to invite Maekawa.

The ministry refused to release the name of the lawmaker, saying that it made the inquiries based on the judgment of the head of the department in charge of elementary and middle school education.

The education board said Maekawa lectured about education at night schools and the importance of lifelong learning. The ministry made strong requests for the details of what he discussed as well as other private matters, including how much he was paid for the lecture, it said.

In contacting Nagoya’s education board, the ministry’s Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau asked whether the officials there were aware Maekawa had resigned in February 2017 after being disciplined for his key role in an amakudari scandal, according to board officials. Amakudari (literally “descent from heaven”) is the systematic practice of helping bureaucrats land post-retirement jobs at entities they once supervised.

The ministry’s bureau also sent email messages that dredged up a strange May 2017 report from the daily Yomiuri Shimbun about Maekawa’s research visits to a dating bar in Tokyo that was published around the time he said he was willing to give sworn testimony in the Diet about the authenticity of eight Kake Gakuen scandal documents allegedly produced by the education ministry when he was there.

The report was so unusual it raised public suspicions Maekawa was being targeted by a smear campaign. He was never found to have committed any wrongdoing in connection with the bar.

The decision to inquire into the lecture was made by the bureau without notifying its top officials, the ministry said. Education Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said that the inquiry did not pose any problem but that the bureau should have exercised more caution in phrasing its questions.

Maekawa said as a witness in the Diet last year that the Prime Minister’s Office worked “behind the scenes” to influence the education ministry’s decision-making process on whether to approve Kake’s plan to establish Japan’s first new veterinary school in half a century within a government-designated special economic zone in Ehime Prefecture.

The Cabinet Office, not the Prime Minister’s Office, is responsible for dealing with matters related to special economic zones.

The allegation surfaced after a media report on the existence of documents that indicated the education ministry was pressured to approve the opening of Kake’s veterinary department. The ministry initially denied the documents existed, but Maekawa verified their existence, saying he remembered seeing them when he was vice minister.

An internal ministry probe later found documents similar in substance, but the ministry stopped short of verifying whether their contents were true.

Abe is also mired in a similar scandal involving the heavily discounted sale of state land to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which is linked to his wife, Akie.

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