Abe Government Denies Claim He Donated to Scandal-Hit School

  • Wife gave $8,800 on behalf of Abe, opposition lawmaker says
  • Nationalist school scrutinized for buying public land cheaply

Japan’s chief government spokesman denied a claim made by the head of a nationalist school operator that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a donation to the scandal-hit group.

Abe didn’t provide any donation to the Moritomo Gakuen educational foundation, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news briefing in Tokyo Thursday. He spoke after Kyodo News reported that the head of the school operator, Yasunori Kagoike, told opposition lawmakers of the alleged offering. Opposition Democratic Party leader Renho said Abe should resign if the report of the donation is true, according to Kyodo.

Read more: How nationalist school scandal is dogging Abe

Abe’s popularity, while still strong, has weakened since media reports emerged weeks ago that the Ministry of Finance sold land to Moritomo at a fraction of its appraised value to build an elementary school. Abe has sought to distance himself from the issue, and said he’d step down if any link emerges between himself and the real estate transaction.

“Abe’s very unlikely to resign over this issue,” said Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University’s Japan campus in Tokyo. “It’s not illegal to make donations to schools, but the issue really is about whether Abe was involved in the land deal.”

Abe’s wife Akie donated 1 million yen ($8,800) to the foundation in September 2015 on behalf of her husband, according to a Twitter post by Communist Party lawmaker Kotaro Tatsumi. Akie Abe had been scheduled to act as an honorary principal of the school but has since severed links with it.

‘No Idea’

The prime minister “said he had not made a donation through his wife Akie, through his office or through a third party,” Suga told reporters, adding that he had “absolutely no idea” on what basis Kagoike made his remarks.

Lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition agreed to summon Kagoike to answer questions in parliament on March 23, public broadcaster NHK reported, citing Democratic Party lawmaker Kazunori Yamanoi.

Moritomo Gakuen runs a nursery school in Osaka that espouses elements of the prewar nationalist curriculum and explicitly backs Abe. The Tsukamoto kindergarten is known for making children bow to portraits of the emperor and recite a 19th century imperial decree on education -- practices dropped elsewhere after Japan’s World War II defeat.

Defense Chief

Earlier this week, Defense Minister Tomomi Inada was forced to apologize and retract comments made in parliament stating that she had never acted for the institution in her previous career as a lawyer. Inada later confirmed that she represented the group in court in 2004 in place of her husband and blamed the misstatement on a memory lapse. Abe stood by Inada in the face of opposition calls for her resignation.

The kindergarten apologized last month for using expressions that "could cause misunderstanding among foreigners." Kyodo reported that the principal had been questioned over alleged slurs against Koreans and Chinese. Kagoike said last week that he will step down.

The scandal has dented Abe’s support levels, according to polls taken this month. While most surveys still show approval over 50 percent, he will be anxious to avoid a further dip in popularity to maintain the LDP’s majority in an election due by the end of next year.

“Abe’s got so much political capital,” Dujarric said. “His advantage is that he has no enemies in the LDP, no rivals in the wings waiting to take over. The opposition is also too weak to force a no-confidence vote.”

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