Photo/IllutrationChief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga walks in front of Kihei Maekawa, former administrative vice education minister, center, and Moriyuki Kato, former Ehime governor, left, at an Upper House special hearing on July 10. (Kazuhiro Nagashima)

Kihei Maekawa, a former top education ministry bureaucrat, clashed with the chief Cabinet secretary in the Diet and suggested a smear campaign was orchestrated to raise doubts about documents in a political scandal.

At an Upper House special hearing on July 10, Maekawa also warned about relations between the media and the current administration.

His words came after Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga defended the remarks he made in May about Maekawa when the scandal over the Kake Educational Institution, run by a close friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was unfolding.

In May, Maekawa confirmed the existence of internal ministry documents that said swift approval of Kake’s plan to start a veterinary medicine faculty in Ehime Prefecture was the “intent of the prime minister.”

Suga later that month portrayed Maekawa as a disgruntled former employee who had been “clinging on to his post” of administrative vice education minister in a separate scandal.

During the July 10 session, Suga stood by that remark, saying it “was made based on facts.”

In response to a question posed by Renho, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, Suga said he had been briefed about Maekawa’s character by Kazuhiro Sugita, a deputy chief Cabinet secretary.

“I understand that Maekawa requested that he be allowed to remain at his post at least until March,” Suga said.

When it was Maekawa’s turn to testify, he said the words from the top government spokesman were absolutely false.

“The account that the chief Cabinet secretary has just given goes completely against the facts,” Maekawa said in a stern tone.

Maekawa resigned from his post in late January to take responsibility for the education ministry’s illegal practice of helping retired officials land cushy, private-sector jobs.

But he argued at the hearing that he informed senior ministry officials and the education minister of his intention to step down in early January.

“I have never ever said I personally wanted a postponement for my retirement or permission to remain in my post,” he said.

Maekawa also brought up a May 22 report published by The Yomiuri Shimbun, the nation’s largest daily, that said Maekawa was a regular at a shady dating bar in Tokyo’s Kabukicho red-light district.

He explained at news conferences that he had watched a TV program about poverty among women and went to such places to hear what the women had to say.

Speculation was rife among opposition lawmakers that the prime minister’s office “tried to muzzle Maekawa by leaking potentially scandalous material to media outlets.”

In response to a question from Hodaka Maruyama, a Lower House member of the opposition Japan Innovation Party, Maekawa said that Sugita in autumn last year warned him about frequenting such establishments.

“I felt that there was a link between the prime minister’s office and The Yomiuri Shimbun article,” Maekawa said. “If such maneuvers have also targeted other individuals, I believe there is something seriously wrong about relations between those in power and the news media.”

After the Yomiuri story was published, Maekawa said in public that “the ministry’s principles became distorted” in the process to approve Kake’s plan to open the faculty.

In an interview with The Asahi Shimbun, he also said he had read documents related to the push for approval of that plan.

Takuya Hirai, a Lower House member of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, asked Maekawa if he was the one who leaked the education ministry documents.

“I believe that question is clearly something I should not answer,” Maekawa said.

(This article was written by Yuki Okado and Mikiharu Sugiura.)