March 17, 2017 2:30 pm JST

Abe drawn further into nationalist school scandal

Pressure mounts as PM forced to deny financial donations

SHOTARO TANI, Nikkei staff writer

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been dragged deeper into a scandal involving a private school, having been forced to deny he or his wife have made financial contributions to the nationalist institution. The problem is swiftly becoming the most serious threat to the Abe administration since he was elected in 2012.

The denial came after Yasunori Kagoike, the principal of the Moritomo Gakuen incorporated educational institution, claimed on Thursday that the prime minister's wife made donations of 1 million yen on his behalf in relation to the building of an elementary school in Osaka Prefecture in 2015.

"I have checked with Prime Minister Abe, and he said he has not made any donations himself, nor through his wife or third parties," Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, told journalists on Thursday. The government spokesperson again told the press on Friday that the prime minister's office had reviewed its files to check if Akie Abe had made donations in an individual capacity. "There are no records, including receipts. She has not made donations," he said.

Moritomo Gakuen came into the spotlight when it was reported it had bought an 8,770-sq.-meter plot for a new primary school last June for 134 million yen, far lower than its appraisal value of 956 million yen.

The institution is notorious for operating a right-wing private kindergarten where, in an effort to instill patriotism, 3-to-5-year-olds are made to memorize the 1890 Imperial Rescript. The document calls on pupils to "offer themselves courageously to the state," but the practice was abolished after Japan's defeat in World War II. 

Abe insists he had nothing to do with the sale of the land, even though his wife was set to become honorary principal of the new primary school. Reports also emerged that the school's operator had planned to name the new school after Abe.

The prime minister has said in parliament that he would "quit as prime minister and as a Diet member" if it turned out he or his wife had been involved in the land sale.

Abe is not the only member of the current administration being scrutinized in relation to the controversial school operator.

Court documents from 2004 showed Tomomi Inada, the current defense minister, acted as a lawyer for Moritomo Gakuen. She had previously denied in parliament any link to the school, saying she had "absolutely no recollection" of any involvement with the institution. She was later forced to correct her comments. Opposition parties claim that she has lost her credibility, and are calling for her resignation.

The budget committees of both the upper and lower houses voted on Friday to summon Kagoike to parliament for a hearing on the 23rd. Kagoike said on Thursday that he would "talk about everything in parliament."

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