Moritomo Gakuen head director Yasunori Kagoike explains to a visiting delegation of Upper House members on March 16 the situation at a site where the school operator was planning to open an elementary school. (Video footage by Jun Ueda)

The Diet on March 23 will get the chance to determine the veracity of a bombshell claim that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe donated money to a school operator now embroiled in scandal.

The ruling coalition intends to show that Yasunori Kagoike, the head director of Moritomo Gakuen, lied about receiving 1 million yen ($8,800) from Abe through his wife, Akie, in September 2015.

Kagoike, however, told reporters in Osaka, “I have decided to tell all in the Diet.”

The scandal over Moritomo Gakuen started over its purchase of state-owned land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, last year for a price that was 14 percent of the appraised value.

Other issues with the school operator have come to light, including disparaging statements toward Chinese and Korean at its kindergarten, and widely different figures in three contract documents for construction costs of an elementary school that it had planned to open on the land in question in April.

The scandal took a new turn when Kagoike on March 16 told a visiting delegation of Upper House members about Abe’s supposed donation for the elementary school.

The prime minister has repeatedly said in Diet deliberations that he had no personal connection to Kagoike.

An hour after the first report of Kagoike’s remark emerged, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference: “After confirming the matter with the prime minister, he said, ‘I did not make a donation.’ He added that no donation was made in his name through Akie, his office or a third party.”

At his March 17 news conference, Suga said the first lady also confirmed that she never made a donation in her own name.

Kagoike’s claim of the donation from Abe has prompted ruling coalition members to take a different approach toward the scandal.

The ruling parties had rejected opposition parties’ demands that Kagoike be summoned to the Diet to testify as an unsworn witness to clear up details about the land deal.

But on March 16, within hours of Kagoike’s comment, the Diet Affairs Committee chairmen of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito had agreed to not only summon Kagoike to testify in the Diet, but that he should do so as a sworn witness.

“This is an insult to the prime minister,” said Wataru Takeshita, the LDP Diet Affairs Committee chairman, in explaining the decision.

Takeshita phoned Kazunori Yamanoi, his counterpart in the main opposition Democratic Party, on the same day, and they agreed to call Kagoike as a sworn witness on March 23 at the budget committees of the two chambers of the Diet.

“In truth, we don’t want to have Kagoike appear, but it has now become unavoidable,” a high-ranking LDP executive said.

Ruling party lawmakers were concerned that Kagoike could make other explosive comments that might hurt Abe’s government.

To prevent him from providing false testimony, the ruling coalition decided to have him appear as a sworn witness. Lying under oath could result in perjury charges punishable by a prison sentence of between three months and 10 years.

Akie had been named honorary principal of the elementary school in Toyonaka and had given lectures at the Moritomo Gakuen kindergarten. She has since resigned from the post.

Abe pledged to resign not only as prime minister, but also as a Diet member, if it emerged that he or his wife played a role in the land deal involving Moritomo Gakuen or the application process for obtaining approval to open the elementary school.

Kagoike’s comment about the donation from Abe came when 11 Upper House members visited the site in Toyonaka to learn more about the background behind the land deal and his plans for the elementary school.

A source who accompanied the Upper House members quoted Kagoike as telling the group: “In September 2015, when Akie Abe came to our school to give a speech, she said please use (this donation for the school). I asked her who the money was from, and she said, ‘From Shinzo Abe.’”

Kagoike also said that he asked Akie if she wanted a receipt for the donation, but she replied that it was not necessary.

“Receiving such a donation made me feel as though our hearts had joined as one,” Kagoike said about his feelings at the time.

One Upper House member asked Kagoike about the amount, and he replied, “One million yen.”

Even if Abe did make a donation to Kagoike, such an act would not be illegal.

The Public Offices Election Law contains no provisions regarding donations by lawmakers to individuals who live outside their district. Abe represents the Yamaguchi No. 4 district, while Moritomo Gakuen is located in Osaka.