A former aide to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday denied a media report that he had intervened to help win approval for a friend of the premier to set up a new veterinary school, the latest twist in suspected cronyism scandal.
Abe’s support has been undermined by several scandals over suspected cronyism and cover-ups, raising doubts about how long he can remain in power.
His domestic troubles are mounting ahead of a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump next week and an expected onslaught from Trump over Japan’s trade policies.
In the latest bad news for Abe, the Asahi newspaper reported yesterday that a former Abe aide, Tadao Yanase, had told local authorities in 2015 that a plan by Abe’s friend for a veterinary school in a government-designated deregulation zone was a “prime ministerial matter” and they should work hard to realize it.
Abe has repeatedly denied that he ever instructed officials to give preferential treatment to his friend, Kotaro Kake, the director of school operator Kake Gakuen, who wanted to open the school -- Japan’s first new veterinary school in more than 50 years.
Yanase, now a senior official at the Ministry of Economic, Trade and Industry, said he had not met authorities in Ehime prefecture or the city of Imabari, in the special economic zone, to discuss the project.
Economic zone status exempts some localities from national regulations, in this case, limits on the number of veterinary schools. Kake Gakuen got approval to open the school in Imabari.
“As I have stated in parliament, as the prime minister’s secretary, I met many people every day but as far as I recall, I did not meet people from Ehime prefecture or Imabari City,” Yanase said in a statement.
“I did not have specific conversations with outsiders that this matter was a prime ministerial matter.”
The Asahi newspaper cited a document it said appeared to have been prepared by Ehime officials. Ehime’s governor said the prefecture would look into the report, Kyodo news agency said.
Abe has also denied that he or his wife intervened in the sale of state-owned land to another school operator, Moritomo Gakuen, which had ties to Abe’s wife, Akie.
Doubts over the sale deepened Monday when a finance ministry official said another official had proposed crafting a cover story with the school operator to justify the steeply discounted price.
The ministry said last month it had altered documents relating to the land sale, prompting opposition calls for Finance Minister Taro Aso to resign. Aso has rejected the calls. ?(SD-Agencies)