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Politics

'Mrs. Abe gave me cash in an envelope'

School chief tells Japan's Diet cash was handed over in name of PM

Yasunori Kagoike, left, head of Moritomo Gakuen, attends a parliamentary session in Tokyo, March 23, 2017.

TOKYO -- In a sworn testimony to the Japanese Diet on Thursday, nationalist educator Yasunori Kagoike described in colorful detail how he received cash in an envelope from Akie Abe, the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"She told her aide to leave us," Kagoike said, "and when we were alone, she handed me an envelope with 1 million yen ($9,000) in it, saying 'Please, this is from Shinzo Abe.'"

Kagoike, the head of school operator Moritomo Gakuen, recalled the scene from Sept. 5, 2015, when Mrs. Abe visited the school to give a speech. Akie took the envelope out of her bag and gave it to him in the principal's office before the speech, Kagoike explained.

"I looked into the envelope, saw some cash, and put it in a safe. Later I took it to the post office," Kagoike said, apparently to deposit it into an account.

The full-day examination of the witness was being held at committees of both houses of Japan's legislature. Kagoike was speaking under oath and could face up to 10 years in prison for perjury if he is later found to have lied.

The scandal centers around a sweetened land deal where Moritomo Gakuen managed to acquire a plot from the government for a 10th of market value. The lot was marred by industrial waste, the reason for the discount. Opposition politicians on Thursday were trying to extract bombshell statements from the loquacious educator about whether there was political pressure behind the deal.

"I do believe that there was political involvement," Kagoike said, although he was uncharacteristically tight-lipped when it came to his own faults.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga denied any such donation during a press conference in the morning. "The Prime Minister has not made the donation, and neither has Mrs. Abe, personally," he said. Shinzo Abe has vowed to resign as prime minister and from his seat in the Diet if he is found to have any links to the land sale.

During his testimony, Kagoike went into further detail about the relationship. He revealed that he had once called Akie's cell phone to request assistance in extending the rights to a property, only to be told by an aide that that would be difficult. Kagoike also said that his wife and Akie contact each other frequently by email -- 22 times in February and 15 to 16 times in March, he said.

He said that recently his wife had received a message from Akie requesting that the Kagoikes stay silent about the matter, adding that he could release the email.

Regarding the 1 million yen, he said, "Abe's wife apparently says she doesn't remember this at all, but since this was a matter of honor to us, I remember it quite vividly."

Moritomo's schools are known for their right-wing inclinations, including a kindergarten that makes children bow to portraits of the emperor and to have them recite the Imperial Rescript on Education, a Meiji-era document that calls on people to "offer yourselves courageously to the State."

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