Sat, Jun 17, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Japanese PM under fire after claims of influence peddling

AFP, TOKYO

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday was under mounting pressure over allegations that he used his influence to help a friend in a business deal after two official reports appeared to back up the claims.

Abe, in power since late 2012, is in little danger of losing his job, but his popularity has taken a hit in the midst of the latest claims of shady dealings.

They come a few months after the conservative prime minister was forced to deny connections to a controversial director of a school which had purchased government land at a huge discount — and counted Abe’s wife as its honorary principal.

This week, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and the Cabinet Office confirmed the existence of documents similar to ones that the opposition pointed to as evidence Abe used his power improperly to pressure bureaucrats into helping a friend.

The claims, originally reported by the Asahi newspaper last month, center on documents that suggested the ministry was pressured to grant approval for a new veterinary school run by one of Abe’s old university friends.

The friend, Kotaro Kake, allegedly wanted to open his school in a special economic zone so that he could bypass the ministry’s cumbersome regulations.

In response to the claims, the ministry launched a probe last month, but it quickly closed the investigation and said it “could not confirm the existence of the documents.”

The ministry flip-flopped a week later, saying the documents did exist.

“I’m taking this result seriously,” Japanese Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters this week.

The Cabinet Office yesterday also said it had unearthed similar papers, but questioned whether they proved Abe intended to pressure ministry bureaucrats.

“There was no such instruction from the prime minister,” government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said.

Earlier this year, Abe denied claims he made a donation to the school at the center of the land scandal.

The school’s director, Yasunori Kagoike, had gained notoriety for operating an Osaka kindergarten that instills pupils with ultra-nationalist views.

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