A new fact has come to light over suspicions surrounding a plan by the Kake Educational Institution, a school operator headed by a close friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to open a university faculty of veterinary medicine in a government-designated National Strategic Special Zone in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.

Sources have told The Asahi Shimbun that Kake’s secretary-general joined officials of the Imabari city government, including a division director, in visiting the prime minister’s office in April 2015. They met with Tadao Yanase, then an executive secretary to the prime minister, who was in charge of national strategic special zones.

The meeting took place two months before the prefectural and city governments officially applied to host a strategic special zone.

Executive secretaries to the prime minister are bureaucrats picked up from various central government ministries and agencies. One of them was found to have held a meeting with city government officials and others even before the proposal was formally presented.

So what is the background behind such special treatment?

During a session of the Upper House Budget Committee last month, Yanase repeatedly said he does not remember having attended such a meeting. His remarks are hardly convincing.

Revelations of the meeting also raise questions about the authenticity of Abe’s statements.

Abe maintains that he learned about Kake’s involvement in the Imabari strategic special zone only in January 2017, when the educational institution officially won approval to operate there.

It’s natural to believe that Yanase, at the meeting, viewed Imabari and Kake as a package. If Abe were telling the truth, then the information was never shared with the prime minister until 21 months later.

The prime minister should explain himself again over the matter.

It has also been learned that another senior official of the Kake Educational Institution made remarks at a hearing of Imabari city government officials held by a central government working group on national strategic special zones in June 2015. That was the same month that Imabari submitted the proposal to host one of the zones.

But a published summary of the proceedings of the hearing contains no reference to the presence of the Kake official nor his remarks.

More details of the proceedings were expected to be published on a later date. However, a member of the working group has said the full proceedings will be almost identical to the summary.

These findings raise many questions about the statements of Abe and members of the working group, who have said that “all discussions are open” and the entire process was “crystal clear.”

Unbelievably, the government has bluntly and unapologetically said that records of visitors to the prime minister’s office in April 2015, and stenographic records of the June 2015 working group meeting that provided a basis for the summary of the proceedings, have both been “scrapped.”

It is really curious that no material evidence whatsoever remains with the prime minister’s office or the Cabinet Office that could provide a key to uncovering the truth.

In addition, it is still unclear what relevant Cabinet ministers talked about before they settled on the Imabari-Kake proposal over a rival plan. That lack of transparency has made it extremely difficult to track down the processes of decision making by administrative organs.

The situation could be described as conduct that tramples on the public’s right to know.

Abe repeatedly spoke of “remorse” and humbled himself after the approval ratings for his Cabinet plummeted and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party suffered a crushing defeat in the Tokyo metropolitan assembly election.

But he has no hope of winning back the public’s confidence unless he makes clear what actually took place during the process leading to the selection of the Kake Educational Institution.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 11