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Politics

Abe pushes back as suspicion deepens over vet school

Prime minister denies discussing plans with friend in favoritism scandal

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claims that he did not know in advance about Kake Educational Institution's plans for a new vet school and therefore could not show any favoritism.

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday dismissed allegations that he knew from the start about his friend's plan to open a new veterinary school, scrambling to contain the fallout from a newly discovered record contradicting his story. 

"I've met with [Kake Educational Institution Chairman Kotaro Kake] many times, but we have never discussed the plans for a new veterinary school," Abe said at a lower house meeting. He repeated past assertions that he only found out when the organization got the green light in January 2017 to build the school in an Ehime Prefecture special economic zone.

But a newly emerged record kept by Ehime prefectural staffers shows that Abe was actually told about the plans at a meeting with the chairman on Feb. 25, 2015. "The prime minister commented that he liked the idea of a new veterinary school," the document said. This has spurred opposition claims that "Abe has been lying for more than a year," in the words of Akira Koike of the Japanese Communist Party, deepening suspicion that the government drew up a veterinary school plan just for Kake. 

Abe stressed on Tuesday that no records were found of Kotaro Kake visiting the prime minister's office. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga explained that these entry logs are discarded quickly. The school operator issued a statement on Monday denying the purported February 2015 meeting as well.

The opposition was unimpressed. "Since there are no records left, there is no proof that Mr. Kake did not visit the prime minister's office," said Yuichiro Tamaki, who co-chairs the Democratic Party for the People.

"If the prime minister is going to deny the contents of a document formally submitted by Ehime Prefecture to the Diet, he needs to provide some kind of proof," said Constitutional Democratic Party Secretary-General Tetsuro Fukuyama, who argued that his words cannot be taken at face value.

Ehime Gov. Tokihiro Nakamura also vouched for the document. "We submitted it in response to a request from the Diet, and there is no reason for staffers to alter a document that is three years old," he said.

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