Photo/IllutrationChinami Kagoike, second from left, speaks in a news conference in Osaka on April 21 as the new head director of school operator Moritomo Gakuen. (Sayuri Ide)

OSAKA--An Osaka-based school operator at the center of a political scandal has sought protection from creditors under the supervision of a court.

Moritomo Gakuen applied to the Osaka District Court for rehabilitation under the Civil Rehabilitation Law.

The latest development still leaves unanswered the question of whether the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe exerted influence in the school obtaining state-owned land in Osaka Prefecture for a fraction of its appraised value. Akie Abe at one point had been named honorary principal of the elementary school that Moritomo had planned to open. She relinquished the post after the scandal broke.

Also at issue is an allegation, made in sworn testimony to the Diet by the former head of Moritomo, that the prime minister provided a 1-million-yen (about $9,000) donation through his wife. Abe has strongly denied doing so.

Moritomo also came under the media spotlight for having kindergarten children recite the long-abandoned Imperial Rescript on Education, which encouraged self-sacrifice in the name of the emperor. It has since given up any plan to open an elementary school at the site in Toyonaka.

The company said its debts now amount to at least 1.6 billion yen ($14.7 million).

Under court supervision, Moritomo is seeking to reduce its debts while continuing to operate a kindergarten.

In response to the application, announced April 21, the Osaka District Court issued a provisional administration order to put Moritomo’s assets under its control. The court also selected a lawyer to serve as a provisional administrator.

If the court judges that the application meets required conditions, it will initiate rehabilitation procedures.

Moritomo's decision to take this course of action stems from its desire to coordinate the interests of various concerned parties, according to a different lawyer working on behalf of Moritomo who cited the construction company that erected the buildings for the elementary school as well as the central government and the Osaka prefectural government.

The lawyer spoke at a news conference, as did the one appointed by the court to serve as a provisional administrator.

With regard to the site for the elementary school, which the Finance Ministry plans to buy back from Moritomo, the lawyer to serve as a provisional administrator said, “We want to think about the best way in cooperation with the other parties concerned, such as the central government and the construction company.”

His remark seemed to suggest that Moritomo will consider selling the land while keeping the school buildings intact.

Chinami Kagoike, who recently replaced her father Yasunori as the head director of Moritomo, told reporters that her immediate aim is to "maintain the operation of our kindergarten.”

Asked about suspicions that Moritomo illegally obtained public subsidies in relation to the construction of the elementary school, Kagoike said: “I am not involved in the issue. I don’t know anything about it.”