Opposition Hammers Claimed Abe Ties to Approved Operator of Dubious SchoolSociety
Prime Minister’s Connection to Kake School Group in Spotlight
Scandal is swirling around Prime Minister Abe Shinzō as reports surface that he wielded influence through the cabinet organization to secure approval of a new veterinary school to be built in a specially designated strategic district in Ehime Prefecture. The proposed school would be operated by Kake Gakuen, an educational outfit in Okayama Prefecture headed by Kake Kōtarō, a personal friend of the prime minister. Opposition politicians are latching on to this as a scandal that could be used to force Abe from office, and are pressing for National Diet proceedings to investigate it further.
Attention is now focused on the existence of documents in the Ministry of Education related to the establishment of the school, which the government approved in January this year. The May 17 Asahi Shimbun printed a scoop claiming that the documents were authentic, and that they proved the Cabinet Office was urging the ministry to approve the new school, stating that the plan had support “at the highest levels of the Kantei,” or prime minister’s office, and that it was “the will of the prime minister” that the school be approved.
If the documents are authentic, they indicate that serious political pressure was brought to bear in what should have been an independent academic institution approval process.
Ex-Bureaucrat Claims Proof of Abe Involvement
Following the Asahi report, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide rejected claims based on “unseen, unsourced documents.” On May 19, Minister of Education Matsuno Hirokazu announced that a ministry investigation had turned up no documents matching their description. On May 25, however, Maekawa Kihei, a former administrative vice education minister—the top bureaucratic post in the organization—announced at a Tokyo press conference that the documents were indeed real and had been shared among high-ranking ministry officials.
Maekawa also told the media that the decision to relax restrictions on the creation of new veterinary colleges had been made “based on the flimsiest of arguments” in favor of the Kake Gakuen school. “Administrative processes that must be fairly and equally applied to all were twisted in this case,” he claimed. Regarding his own culpability in the matter, he only deepened suspicions about the case with his own apology: “I felt deep uncertainty about this school proposal, but was unable to return the ministry to its proper administrative stance. I must accept considerable responsibility for the way that this was pushed through in the end.”
The ruling coalition, including Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, is now on a defensive footing as the opposition calls for Maekawa to appear before the Diet as a witness. On May 26 Yamanoi Kazunori, the parliamentary affairs chief for the Democratic Party, met with his LDP counterpart, Takeshita Wataru, to request that Maekawa give testimony. Takeshita declined the request, noting that Maekawa is now a private individual who should have spoken out about any dubious matters while still in his ministry post.
A Long Kake-Abe Friendship
The Kake Gakuen group operates three college-level institutions, including the Okayama University of Science and the Kurashiki University of Science and the Arts, in addition to high schools, junior high schools, training schools, and preschools. Group chairman Kake Kōtarō boasts a close friendship with Prime Minister Abe going back four decades to when the two studied in the United States together.
To avoid turning out more veterinarians than the national market can absorb, the national government strictly controls the creation of colleges in this field. In November 2016, however, the government announced a revision to the veterinary school system that would allow the launch of a new institution, and in January this year Kake Gakuen was tapped to operate it. The city of Imabari in Ehime Prefecture agreed to provide the needed land at no charge in addition to providing ¥9.6 billion in aid to support facilities construction.
According to domestic media reports, the selection process saw Kyoto Sangyō University also vying for the right to operate the new school, but some selection criteria were updated in the final phase in ways that gave Kake Gakuen the edge.(Originally written in Japanese on May 26, 2017. Banner photo: Former Ministry of Education official Maekawa Kihei wraps up his press conference on the Kake Gakuen issue on May 25, 2017. © Jiji.)