In the latest twist in the Kake Gakuen scandal, education minister Yoshimasa Hayashi revealed Friday that a three-year-old email has been found linking the Cabinet Office with a ministry official — the latest sign that the account given by one of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s former secretaries may not be credible.
The email, sent on April 2, 2015, touched on the possibility of setting up a meeting between former aide Tadao Yanase and officials from Kake Gakuen, Ehime Prefecture and the city of Imabari, even though Yanase denies that Abe did any favors for the school operator run by his friend.
It is almost certain that the discovery of the ministry email will further deepen public suspicion that Yanase met the officials to assist with Kake Gakuen’s application to open a rare veterinary department at a university situated in a special economic zone in Imabari.
The school’s operator is chaired by Kotaro Kake, a longtime friend of Abe.
The email contains information about a senior Cabinet Office official meeting with three parties — Kake Gakuen, the prefecture and the city.
It also says that on the same day, at 3 p.m., they also planned to meet with Yanase, who was then one of Abe’s executive assistants, at the Prime Minister’s Office.
The contents of the email match the content of a separate document that was generated by an Ehime Prefectural official on April 3, 2015.
The Ehime paper also states that Yanase met with the parties on April 2, starting at 3 p.m. at the Prime Minister’s Office.
Yanase has repeatedly said he never met the Ehime and Imabari officials “as far as I can remember.”
“I think now that those involved should take responsibility for explaining” what actually happened, Hayashi told a news conference Friday.
According to the Ehime document, Yanase regarded the school’s attempt to qualify for deregulation as “the prime minister’s matter” and gave detailed advice to Kake and the Ehime and Imabari officials when filing the application.
It is extremely rare for local officials to be invited to the Prime Minister’s Office to discuss a specific project with an executive aide.
Abe vehemently denied intervening in any government process involved in approving Kake Gakuen’s application for deregulation.
Abe has also said he trusts Yanase’s denials, while declining to comment on the allegations made in the Ehime paper.
In May last year, eight documents penned by education ministry officials were leaked to the media, sparking public suspicion that Abe pulled strings for the school operator.
Two of the papers quoted Cabinet Office officials saying “it is the prime minister’s intent” to allow a new veterinary department to open in Imabari, and “the highest-level” officials in the Prime Minister’s Office want the ministry to create the “shortest possible schedule” for that purpose.