Tadao Yanase, a key government official in an alleged favoritism scandal involving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is expected to admit that he did meet with an official of school operator Kake Gakuen in April 2015 at the prime minister’s house, sources said Wednesday.
Yanase, former executive secretary to Abe, needs to modify his previous explanations in the wake of the discovery of a series of documents suggesting that he held talks with a Kake Gakuen official on that day, the sources said.
The school operator is headed by Kotaro Kake, one of Abe’s closest friends. Opposition lawmakers say they suspect Abe may have used his influence to help Kake Gakuen win deregulation approval to open a new veterinary university department in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.
Yanase, now vice minister for international affairs at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, is expected to appear in the Diet to explain his meeting with the Kake official, according to the sources.
Yanase has repeatedly denied he met officials from Kake Gakuen or the city of Imabari and Ehime Prefecture on that day at the prime minister’s official residence, saying he can’t remember any meeting like that.
But a variety of documents regarding the meeting in question have been discovered recently. A senior official of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said Yanase should first admit that he actually attended the gathering.
According to another senior LDP official, Yanase now plans to explain that he was not aware of the presence of local government officials in the meeting with the Kake official.
Even if Yanase admits the meeting with a Kake official, that would not necessarily mean he lied about the meeting in the past, the LDP official said.
The ruling and opposition parties are discussing a plan to summon Yanase to the Diet.
The government and ruling parties are apparently trying to weaken opposition parties’ criticism against Yanase’s denial by having him admit that he had at least met a Kake Gakuen official in the meeting in question.
But whether it would ease public anger over the governments alleged favoritism for the school still remains to be seen.
Hit by a number of scandals, the support rate for the Abe Cabinet has recently fallen, making it unclear whether he will be re-elected as LDP president in the September party election. .
Last month, the Kake group opened a university faculty for veterinary medicine in a strategic national deregulation zone in the city of Imabari, the first such university veterinary department to be established in Japan in 52 years.
On April 10, the Ehime Prefectural government said it had discovered a memo about the meeting between Yanase and officials of the prefectural government and the Imabari municipal government. The prefectural government said that the memo was created by one of its personnel.
In the memo, during April 2, 2015, meeting, Yanase was quoted as saying that the plan to establish the veterinary school was the “prime minister’s matter.”
He also gave detailed advice for the attendants in applying for the special deregulation status, according to the Ehime government memo.
The discovery further deepened public suspicion that Abe was secretly helping Kake Gakuen’s bid, despite denials repeatedly expressed by Abe and Yanase.
Similar documents were found later at the agriculture ministry.
Furthermore, an email sent from the Cabinet Office, which oversees national strategic special zones, to the education ministry referred to the meeting schedule.
In a statement released April 10, Yanase said he had no memory of meeting with Ehime or Imabari government officials on the veterinary school issue. He also denied that he referred to the subject as the prime minister’s matter.