The government should treat all people--no matter their relationship with the prime minister--fairly and equally.

But this basic principle of a democratic society seems to have been seriously eroded in Japan.

Education ministry documents obtained by The Asahi Shimbun appear to provide another example of favorable treatment of a person linked to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The papers indicate that the Cabinet Office put pressure on the education ministry to quickly approve an Okayama-based school operator’s plan to open a veterinary medicine faculty in a National Strategic Special Zone in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture. The Cabinet Office is in charge of the National Strategic Special Zones program.

The Cabinet Office urged the ministry to work swiftly, saying calls for approving the plan came from the “highest levels of the prime minister’s office,” according to the documents. They also say, “We understand that it is the intent of the prime minister.”

The school operator, the Kake Educational Institution, is run by a person whom Abe has described as “a close and trusted friend.”

If the information in the documents is factual, the Cabinet Office attempted to benefit Abe’s friend, citing “the prime minister’s intent.”

The allegations raise serious questions about the political rectitude of the prime minister and the government.

Abe and the government organizations concerned have the responsibility to immediately look into the allegations and explain the findings to the public.

The way the Kake Educational Institution’s request was approved is quite suspicious.

The documents were created in September and October last year, according to an education ministry source. They show Hirokazu Matsuno, the minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, questioned the feasibility of the institution’s goal to start the new faculty in April 2018.

Matsuno pointed to the difficulty of completing preparations for the new faculty, such as securing the required number of instructors.

But in January this year, only several months after Matsuno’s statement, the Cabinet Office and education ministry jointly issued a notice allowing a single veterinary medicine faculty to open in April 2018 as a special exception.

When another university planned to open such a facility, a requirement was added in November 2016 that limited the new faculty to an area with no other veterinary medicine faculties.

As a result, the Kake Educational Institution was the only one to apply to operate a new veterinary medicine faculty in a special zone.

It was the first time in 52 years that a new veterinary medicine faculty was approved in Japan.

To open the faculty, the Kake Educational Institution received for free a plot of land worth 3.67 billion yen ($33 million) owned by the Imabari municipal government.

For some time, the opposition parties have been asking questions at the Diet about the approval process for the faculty and Abe’s possible involvement.

The parties have voiced suspicions that the process was influenced by Abe’s personal ties with the head of the institution, pointing to the fact that only the Kake Educational Institution was allowed to open a veterinary medicine faculty in more than half a century.

Abe has acknowledged his friendship with the institution’s chief but denied any involvement in the matter.

“Since he is a friend, I eat and play golf with him, but I have never received such a request from him,” Abe said.

This is another example of a questionable government decision linked to Abe’s personal relationships that may have been influenced by his overwhelming political power.

It has many similarities to the dubious sale of state-owned land to Osaka-based school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which has raised suspicions of involvement by Abe and his wife, Akie.

Matsuno has said he has not confirmed the existence of the documents.

He should not be allowed to show reluctance in making serious efforts to clarify the facts. The Finance Ministry has already shown such reluctance regarding allegations concerning the Moritomo Gakuen affair.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 18