Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may have known of the veterinary school project at the center of favoritism allegations against him roughly two years earlier than he has stated, a document obtained by Kyodo News showed Monday.
The revelation prompted opposition parties to redouble their criticism of Abe, who is under fire for allegedly using his influence to sway the approval process that led to the opening of Japan’s first veterinary department in half a century by Kake Gakuen (Kake Educational Institution) last month.
Kotaro Kake, who heads the school entity, is a longtime friend of Abe. But the prime minister has repeatedly denied involvement in the approval process for the project, which is in a special deregulation zone in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.
The new document, which was submitted by the Ehime Prefectural Government to the Diet on Monday, states that Kake told Abe that his operation aimed to provide veterinary education on a par with international standards, during a meeting on Feb. 25, 2015.
The prime minister has said he learned of the project on Jan. 20, 2017, when a government economic panel approved it.
“The idea of opening such a new veterinary school is good,” Ehime’s document quotes Abe as saying when he was told about the project.
Suspicion deepened last month when another Ehime document was found stating that one of Abe’s former secretaries recommended that local officials proceed with the plan, describing it as a “matter concerning the prime minister.” The recommendation was made during an unusual meeting with the officials in the Prime Minister’s Office on April 2, 2015.
The former secretary in question, Tadao Yanase, who is now vice minister for international affairs at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, at first denied meeting with people involved in the project but later admitted to meeting with officials from Kake on May 10, in the Diet.
The document recorded the local officials’ trip to Tokyo, including the meeting with Yanase.
Yuichiro Tamaki, co-head of the new Democratic Party for the People, told reporters the contradiction was too great to ignore.
“Prime Minister Abe’s Diet remarks have been turned upside down. The Cabinet should resign en masse,” he said.
Akira Koike, head of the secretariat of the opposition Japanese Communist Party, echoed him.
“This is an important document that should determine Prime Minister Abe’s next course of action,” he said. “Without thoroughly investigating this issue, the Diet will not move forward.”