Suspicion about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s alleged favoritism toward school operator Kake Gakuen deepened further on Friday after a potentially compromising document was unearthed at the agriculture ministry.
The discovery gives further credibility to a similar document that was first reported by the daily Asahi Shimbun on Tuesday. Ehime Gov. Tokihiro Nakamura has claimed that the document obtained by Asahi was drafted by a prefectural official on April 2015 but the prefecture doesn’t have a copy because it was written simply as a memo and was later discarded.
The latest file found at the agriculture ministry, obtained by The Japan Times, said that Abe was behind a deregulation project which gave the green light to a school operator run by his close friend to build a new veterinary department in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.
Agriculture minister Ken Saito disclosed the existence of the document during a regular news conference.
The two documents are almost identical, except for the date and the last paragraph. The document found at the agriculture ministry was dated April 3, 2015, one day after one of Abe’s top secretaries reportedly met Ehime and Imabari officials at the Prime Minister’s Office and the last paragraph is slightly shorter than that of the document reported by Asahi. The Asahi copy was dated April 13 of the same year.
The document found at the agriculture ministry is an earlier version and the Asahi copy is a revised version prepared as briefing material for Nakamura, he said later on Friday according to Kyodo News.
Currently the Ehime government doesn’t have copies of either of the two documents.
The two documents both quoted Tadao Yanase, then one of Abe’s executive assistants, as saying that Kake Gakuen’s bid to win a government approval to open a new veterinary department at one of its universities as “the prime minister’s matter.” Yanase made the remark during a meeting with Ehime prefectural and Imabari city officials at the Prime Minister’s Office on April 2, 2015, they said.
An agricultural ministry official who is in charge of legislation pertaining to veterinarians had the document. Ehime prefectural officials are believed to have given a copy to the ministry to lobby for Kake Gakuen’s plan.
According to the documents, Yanase also gave detailed advice to support Kake Gakuen’s bid to open a veterinary department in a deregulation zone in Imabari.
The files have reignited public suspicion that Abe might have favored Kake Gakuen because it was chaired by Kotaro Kake, one of Abe’s closest friends. Kake Gakuen is known as Kake Educational Institution in English.
Yanase has maintained he does not remember meeting Ehime prefectural and Imabari city officials, and that it was “inconceivable” for him to have made such a comment about the Kake Gakuen project. Abe has strongly denied using his influence to favor Kake Gakuen in the deregulation project and said he believes Yanase.
Further cementing Ehime Prefecture’s allegation, the Yomiuri Shimbun’s Thursday evening edition reported that it had contacted an individual who attended the 2015 meeting. The story quoted the anonymous official as saying that Yanase did, in fact, call Kake Gakuen’s application for deregulation “the prime minister’s matter.”
“I don’t know why he (said that), but we felt (he was) very positive about” promoting the deregulation project, the Yomiuri quoted the person as saying.
The latest revelations have given more ammunition to opposition lawmakers, who claim that Yanase lied to defend the prime minister.
In general, a written record is considered more credible in court than a testimony solely based on a person’s memory. The documents, meanwhile, were allegedly drafted in 2015, long before the Kake Gakuen scandal began to draw intense public scrutiny in May last year.
During a regular news conference Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to comment when asked which side should be believed — the two documents or Yanase’s statement.
“The government is not in a position to make a comment on things like that,” Suga said. But he also added that “it is important for the government to make efforts not to arouse any public suspicion.”