Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday he has no problem with his former aide’s 2015 meeting with officials from Kake Gakuen, the school chain run by his friend, and repeated that he never intervened in the government process for approving the rare veterinary project launched by his longtime confidant.
It was Abe’s first Diet response to the unsworn testimony given last week by Tadao Yanase, his former assistant.
Yanase, currently a senior official at the trade ministry, belatedly admitted to meeting officials from Kake Gakuen three times in 2015 but denied doing so at Abe’s urging, dissociating the prime minister from the ongoing favoritism allegations.
Yanase’s admission that he met Kake Gakuen officials before and around the school operator’s 2015 application to open a new university veterinary department in a government-designated deregulation zone in Shikoku deepened public suspicions that the approval process was rigged in Kake Gakuen’s favor from the get-go.
“I see no problem with him meeting” the officials, Abe said, noting that Tatsuo Hatta, chairman of a working group for deregulation proposals, testified last week that he was never asked by Yanase to give special treatment to Kake Gakuen.
Thus Yanase’s meeting with the school operator, Abe claimed, had no influence on the approval process.
On Monday, Abe even insisted he was never aware of the Yanase-Kake meetings, backing his former aide’s assertion last week that he did not give Abe any reports on the meetings.
Opposition lawmakers have blasted the prime minister’s claim as incredulous, given that Yanase’s failure to report constantly to Abe appears to contradict the close relationships the prime minister is supposed to have with his executive assistants.
“I’ve never received any report from him on this case,” Abe said.
“It’s only when my own judgment is deemed necessary that my assistants report something to me. … Unless it’s a matter of national importance, I rarely receive reports on an ongoing matter,” he said.
Kotaro Kake, who runs the school operator, is Abe’s longtime friend, and Abe has consistently denied any allegations that he did him a favor by using his influence to get the rare pet school project, the first in 52 years, approved for construction in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.
A weekend poll by Kyodo News found that an overwhelming 75.5 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with Yanase’s testimony, with nearly 70 percent saying the government’s approval process for the Kake project was “not appropriate,” versus 16.9 percent who said otherwise.