National / Politics

Kagoike certain Akie Abe spoke favorably to him about Moritomo land deal, lawmakers say after detention visit

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Following a meeting with former Moritomo Gakuen head Yasunori Kagaoike at the Osaka Detention Center on Friday, opposition lawmakers said Kagoike told them he was certain Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, Akie, made comments to him in support of a land deal that gave the school a substantial discount.

“Asked whether Akie Abe had praised the land and said to please go ahead with the project, a comment that had been deleted from Finance Ministry documents, Kagoike said there was ‘no mistake’ that she said something along those lines and that she received reports regarding negotiations to purchase the land,” Lower House member Masato Imai of Kibo no To (Party of Hope) told reporters after the 45-minute meeting.

The prime minister told an Upper House committee on March 14 that his wife had told him she did not make that comment. But Kagoike’s statements to the visiting Diet members, which are consistent with his Diet testimony last year, and statements to the media since the scandal broke in February 2017 are increasing pressure on Akie Abe to officially respond.

The opposition lawmakers also quoted Kagoike as saying that Akie Abe told him that she would definitely attend a ceremony to celebrate the completion of the framing for the elementary school that was to be built on the plot in question.

“If Kagoike’s comments are true, then she knew about the land negotiations. The impression that the three of us who visited Kagoike today had was that she knew a lot about the land deal. But because we don’t know to what extent Kagoike’s comments are true, we need to hear from Akie,” Imai said.

Opposition calls are also growing for Akie’s former secretary Saeko Tani to testify in the Diet about her role in the scandal.

“Tani’s name was also brought up in today’s meeting. We realized there are lot of things we won’t understand until we hear from Tani,” said Upper House member Takeshi Miyamoto of the Japan Communist Party.

Two more opposition politicians from the Upper House, Wakako Yata of the Democratic Party and Yuko Mori from the Liberal Party, are scheduled to meet with Kagoike on Monday morning.

Kagoike and his wife, Junko, have been held at the Osaka Detention Center since last July, when they were arrested for allegedly swindling the central government out of around ¥56 million in subsidies by padding expenses for the elementary school. The unusually long wait for the beginning of their trial has raised concerns and prompted protests by human rights advocates.

Kagoike has not been allowed to see anyone other than his lawyers since being arrested, but Imai said he looked healthy.