TOKYO -- Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday denied allegations that his wife had given a cash-filled envelope to nationalist school principal Yasunori Kagoike, who made the allegation during sworn testimony in the Diet.
"It is deeply regrettable that there was an explanation contrary to the facts," Abe said during an upper house budget committee meeting. The prime minister expressed displeasure that Kagoike's allegations cannot be disproved given that his wife, Akie Abe, met the principal privately.
The scandal, which has chipped away at Abe's popularity, began with revelations of a sweetheart land deal that allowed Osaka-based Moritomo Gakuen to acquire a plot from the government for its new elementary school at around one-tenth of market value.
Abe has strongly denied that he used his influence to lower the price. As the scandal continues to snowball, he has vowed to resign as prime minister and from his Diet seat if evidence links him to the deal.
"Neither me, my wife, nor my office is involved [in the land sale]," Abe reiterated on Friday. "I want to make that absolutely clear."
On Thursday, Kagoike was called to give sworn testimony in the Diet. He described how he received 1 million yen (about $9,000) in an envelope from the first lady on Sept. 5, 2015 during her visit to a Moritomo Gakuen kindergarten to give a speech.
"She told her aide to leave us," Kagoike testified. "And when we were alone, she handed me an envelope with 1 million yen in it, saying 'Please, this is from Shinzo Abe.'" Kagoike alleged that the prime minister's wife then told him over the phone to keep quiet about the "donation."
"Since this was a matter of honor to us, I remember it quite vividly," Kagoike added. The educator said he also handed Abe's wife an envelope containing 100,000 yen as a gesture of gratitude for her speech.
The first lady denied these claims on her Facebook page on Thursday.
Moritomo's schools are known for their nationalist views. Citing the need to instill patriotism, the kindergarten forces 3-to-5-year-olds to bow to portraits of the emperor and to have them recite the Imperial Rescript on Education, a Meiji-era document that calls for self-sacrifice on behalf of the state.