Tokyo Report

Another Week, Another Cronyism Scandal for Japan’s Abe

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Tokyo Report

Another Week, Another Cronyism Scandal for Japan’s Abe

The controversy over a new veterinary school belonging to Abe’s old friend deepens as fresh evidence emerges.

Another Week, Another Cronyism Scandal for Japan’s Abe
Credit: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office

Last Thursday a former secretary of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe admitted to attending meetings related to Kake Gakuen veterinary school, thus taking back an original statement of denial. During question time in parliament, Tadao Yanase, speaking as an unsworn witness, confirmed the opposition’s suspicions that he met with Kake Educational Institution representatives as well as prefectural and municipal officials three times in 2015.

In July last year, Yanase was grilled in parliament by opposition parties on his and Abe’s involvement in plans for a new veterinary faculty at Okayama University, Ehime Prefecture. The opposition was keen to determine whether any strings were pulled to hasten government approval. According to Yanase last year, “as far as his memory goes” he couldn’t recall any meetings.

However, conflicting new evidence has failed to subdue suspicions the vet school, headed by Abe’s longtime friend Kotaro Kake, received preferential treatment. It’s the first time in 52 years a new veterinary school has been launched by the government since tertiary institutions determined there was an oversupply of veterinary doctors. But Kake Gakuen successfully secured a place within Imabari city in Ehime, a national strategic special zone with relaxed economic regulations to boost the local economy.

In April, new leads on political favoritism arose when meeting notes by Ehime prefectural government highlighted the project was brought to their attention as a “matter relating to the prime minister.” Abe flatly denied extending his influence over the project and says he was not aware Kake was opening a vet school until January 20 last year. But further allegations reveal Yanase pushed Ehime officials to work toward government approval “as if they would die for it” and also provided detailed guidance on application procedures to ensure success.

The abrupt change in Yanase’s story comes after Education Ministry emails from three years ago leaked in April, uncovering discussion of an official meeting with the cabinet ministry in Tokyo along with other stakeholders. The email also references a meeting at the Prime Ministers Office on the same day with then-secretary Yanase.

As cracks in Yanase’s credibility began to show, Ehime prefectural governor Tokihito Nakamura faced the media and denounced Yanase’s version of events as downright lies. In a press conference last Friday, Nakamura presented Yanase’s business card and stamp dating from April 2, 2015 as proof to “put an end” to the mystery.

Competing candidates bidding to open a veterinary faculty in the same region also came forward publicly slamming government officials for contradictory advice, unfair application deadlines, and words of discouragement surrounding their chances of success based on eligibility requirements. Competitors believe the admission was rigged in favor of Kake Gakuen all along.

Last Saturday, Yanase apologized to Ehime prefecture for his “vague” memory but was commended by Abe for doing his best in remembering the details of a meeting from three years ago.

On Monday, Abe faced an intense flurry of questions during a House of Representative Budget session where he defended Yanase saying the lack of updates between the two during the planning stages was standard. He stressed that no procedures were affected when Yanase failed to report back after meetings. However, Abe also carefully deflected blame by noting Yanase “acted on his own judgement” without direction, adding “I trust my own staff.”

The new veterinary department was opened at Okayama University on April 3 of this year and aims to be an international leader in veterinary since. In a speech at the opening, Kake stressed an acute shortage of vets in agriculture sectors in rural Japan and the importance of preserving food safety by overcoming livestock diseases such as bird flu in cattle.