March 20, 2017 2:00 am JST

With principal set to testify, scandal threatens to trip up Abe

Nationalist school chief promises to tell everything in parliament

Abe speaks at the upper house budget committee.

TOKYO -- The embattled chief of a nationalist school operator in Osaka will testify in parliament this week, raising the specter of an ever-widening scandal entangling Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other ruling party lawmakers.

Yasunori Kagoike, who plans to resign as principal of Moritomo Gakuen, has been summoned to the Diet to give sworn testimony on a shady land deal on Thursday.

The central controversy involves the sale of a 8,770-sq.-meter plot in the Osaka Prefectural city of Toyonaka, appraised at 956 million yen ($8.48 million). The Finance Ministry's regional bureau sold the land to the school operator at a steep discount of 134 million yen, citing the cost of waste cleanup at the site, estimated at around 800 million yen. But the location of debris said to be buried in the lot has not be confirmed.

Opposition party Diet members say ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers applied pressure to get Moritomo Gakuen the land at a cut-rate price. If Kagoike testifies that he gave cash gifts to lawmakers in hopes of winning a favorable deal or that politicians applied pressure on behalf of the school, the implicated lawmakers could be in trouble for using political clout for a private transaction.

The school operator has been soliciting donations by touting that the planned school, whose permit application has since been rescinded, would be named after the current prime minister. The school also said Abe's wife, Akie, would serve as honorary principal.

And Kagoike upped the ante Thursday by asserting that the school operator received a 1 million yen donation from Abe through his wife.

Abe has vehemently denied any involvement, promising to resign both as prime minister and lower house member if any facts come out pointing to his or his wife's involvement in the land deal or the school's permit. He also denied giving the donation. But if Kagoike stands by his claim, it would be a matter of his word against Abe's. Abe would be asked to explain inconsistencies between their statements.

It has also been reported that the school operator spoke on numerous occasions with the office of Yoshitada Konoike, an LDP lawmaker. Konoike's office has insisted that he did nothing to facilitate the land deal.

The institution is known for promoting a controversial nationalist education at its kindergarten in Osaka. Citing the need to instill patriotism, the kindergarten forces 3-to-5-year-olds to memorize the 1890 Imperial Rescript promising anachronistic self-sacrifice on be half of the the state. The reciting practice was abolished at schools after Japan's defeat in World War II.

Osaka Prefecture is under deep suspicion as well. The prefectural government eased standards in 2012 to let newcomers open elementary schools using borrowed funds, after Moritomo Gakuen asked it to do so. Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui denies special treatment for the school's request, but Kagoike could testify otherwise.

Moritomo Gakuen also provided three different estimates for school construction costs. It told the private-school panel that advises the prefectural government that the cost would be 756 million yen, but listed the price at 2.38 billion yen in a subsidy application submitted to the Land Ministry, and 1.55 billion yen when seeking assistance for measures against noise pollution from nearby Itami Airport. This has raised suspicion of illicit subsidies.

Kagoike has fanned suspicion by declaring that he will "tell everything in the Diet."

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