September 4, 2020 at 13:40 JST
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe takes questions from reporters who waited for him at the entrance to the prime minister’s office in Tokyo on Nov. 15, 2019. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is grossly wrong if he believes he no longer has to address questions about a string of political scandals that have struck the administration now that he has announced his resignation.
Abe still needs to answer questions related to the scandals involving Moritomo Gakuen, the Kake Educational Institution and the annual cherry blossom viewing parties hosted by the prime minister.
Abe has repeatedly promised to offer “conscientious explanations” about the facts concerning them, but he has failed to honor his promises. He should not be allowed to leave office without making any sincere responses to doubts and questions raised.
As for the dubious sale of state-owned land to Moritomo Gakuen, an Osaka-based school operator linked to Abe’s wife, Akie, most of the key questions remain unanswered, including what exactly were the instructions for the falsifications of related official documents. It is also unclear why a tract of land owned by the government was sold to the school operator at a steep discount of more than 800 million yen ($7.5 million).
In March, notes left by an official at the Finance Ministry’s Kinki Local Finance Bureau who committed suicide after being forced to get involved in the falsifications of documents were released. The widow of the official has called for a fresh investigation into the matter based on the notes, but Abe has rejected the request.
But the doctoring started immediately after Abe pledged to resign as both prime minister and Diet member if it was disclosed that he or his wife had been involved in the questionable land sale. Abe is responsible for clarifying the facts about the allegations.
The government’s decision to allow the Kake Educational Institution, run by a close friend of Abe, to open a new veterinary medicine faculty seems to suggest that his pal received unfair preferential treatment. These revelations include telltale signs of the “sontaku” practice of acting to accommodate the assumed wishes and intentions of the powerful leader, which inevitably undermines the fairness of the administrative process.
When the decision was made to give a license to the Kake Educational Institution to open a veterinary medicine faculty, a secretary to Abe apparently used political pressure by saying it was a matter related to the prime minister. An Abe aide said he spoke for the prime minister because his boss could not say certain things.
While these officials have denied making these remarks, there is no reason why those who claimed having heard these words had to lie.
Above all, Abe suddenly changed his answers concerning whether he had been aware of the decision concerning Kake’s new faculty when asked about the matter at the Diet. He said he had no idea about it until the official decision was made to designate Imabari, where the new faculty was to be established, as a national strategic special zone.
Abe has offered no reasonable explanation about this suspicious move.
Abe may have tried to argue that there could have been no sontaku by people around him because he was not aware of the Kake case. But this argument is by no means convincing and his flip-flopping on what he said has raised suspicion that he gave false answers at the Diet.
A raft of questions remain unanswered also with regard to the government’s cherry blossom viewing gatherings, which were attended by many people with connections to Abe’s local support group, who were invited on the recommendation of the prime minister.
The fact that Abe’s local office broadly recruited participants in the official event sponsored by the prime minister itself makes Abe vulnerable to criticism that he used the party for personal gain.
In addition, the list of participants was destroyed immediately after an opposition party requested the submission of related documents. As for a banquet at a Tokyo hotel held on the eve of the cherry blossom party and sponsored by Abe’s support group, no detailed bills for the services provided by the hotel were produced.
The series of actions taken by administration officials to keep a lid on the facts concerning these allegations against Abe reflect nothing but arrogance of the long-governing administration.
In particular, the falsifications of official documents, an unprecedented misconduct by central government bureaucrats, will leave a blot on the political history of the nation.
Even so, in his news conference to announce his resignation Abe proudly talked about establishing new rules concerning official document management, instead of uttering words of soul-searching. He seems to be unaware of how such an attitude of the prime minister can deepen public distrust of politics.
Abe’s political accountability for all these scandals will not end upon his departure. We urge Abe to hold a news conference along with his wife, who opposition parties kept demanding be summoned to the Diet to answer questions, and the chief of the Kake Educational Institution.
What is being questioned is not just Abe’s political integrity. An even more important question is whether the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has the ability to clean up its own house.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 4
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