‘It stinks’: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe embroiled in fresh scandal over his use of influence to benefit friends
The pro-government media apparently tried to smear whistle-blower in advance, with one daily accusing him of frequenting brothels
After apparently seeing off one scandal about inappropriate use of his influence, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe finds himself embroiled in another.
Abe was in April accused of giving preferential treatment to the operator of nationalist schools in Osaka. Now, he stands accused of pressuring education ministry officials to green-light a veterinary medicine school proposed by one of his friends.
Kihei Maekawa, a former vice-minister in the education ministry, is the latest whistle-blower to raise questions about Abe’s behind the scenes wheeling and dealing. And the attempt to smear Maekawa’s reputation has done little to quell speculation that he is both telling the truth and is in possession of evidence to prove his claims.
Maekawa, who resigned this year after it was revealed that the education ministry was illegally arranging well-paid jobs in organisations under the ministry after their retirement, gave a press conference on Thursday in which he asserted officials caved in to political pressure to approve a project proposed by Abe’s friend, Kotaro Kake.
Kake applied for permission for his Kake Educational Institution to set up a veterinary medicine school affiliated with Okayama University of Science in Ehime Prefecture. At least 15 proposals were rejected by the ministry before Kake’s was presented with, according to Maekawa, a message from the cabinet office asking the ministry to approve it.
Maekawa said the ministry cut corners in the approval process because it felt it was “the intent of the prime minister”, the Asahi newspaper reported.
Eight documents have been leaked to opposition parties and the media, one of which states that approval needs to be granted in “the shortest time period possible” and hinted where the request was coming from: “This is something passed on from the highest levels of the prime minister’s office.”
Another of the documents stressed: “We understand [this] is the intent of the prime minister.”
“Anyone would pay attention to such words,” Maekawa said. “I would be lying if I said [the ministry] did not feel pressure.”
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has dismissed a request from the opposition for Maekawa to testify in the Diet, while chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga claimed the documents were fake.
The pro-government media apparently tried to smear Maekawa before he spoke, with the Yomiuri daily accusing Maekawa of frequenting brothels.
“That was a pretty transparent attempt to discredit him and it really does not reflect well on the paper or the government,” said Jun Okumura, analyst at the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs.
“The documents do not directly implicate Abe and the use of his influence is only implied,” he said, but admitted that in the eyes of the public “it stinks”.