Photo/IllutrationYutaka Fujiwara, a deputy director-general of the Trade and Economic Cooperation Bureau at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, responds to questions from reporters on April 13. (Soichiro Yamamoto)

A Cabinet Office bureaucrat handling national strategic special zones failed to report his use of a vehicle provided by the Kake Educational Institution during a business trip in 2015.

Records for the business trip of Yutaka Fujiwara, then deputy director of a Cabinet Office section promoting local revitalization, only listed the use of a government vehicle.

Falsifying records of the business trip could constitute a legal violation, and Cabinet Office officials said they are looking into the matter.

At the time of the business trip, the Kake institution, headed by a close friend of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was in the process of applying to open a veterinary medicine faculty in a national strategic special zone in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.

In the Diet session on May 14, Hiroshi Kajiyama, state minister for regional revitalization, admitted that during some parts of Fujiwara’s business trip in August 2015, vehicles managed by private-sector companies, including the Kake institution, were used.

“There is a need to be very careful about the use of vehicles so no doubts are raised about the public nature of the business,” Kajiyama said.

According to documents held by the Cabinet Office, Fujiwara traveled to the prefectures of Kumamoto, Okayama and Ehime on Aug. 5-6, 2015.

He exchanged views with local officials regarding plans for national strategic special zones and structural reform special zones.

At a May 15 joint hearing held by opposition party lawmakers, Cabinet Office bureaucrats submitted a document about Fujiwara’s business trip that said he used government vehicles when traveling on Aug. 5, 2015, between Kumamoto Airport and central Kumamoto city and later from the city to Kumamoto Station.

The document also said a government vehicle was used the following day when Fujiwara traveled from Okayama Station to Imabari city by crossing the Seto Inland Sea and later when moving from Imabari to Matsuyama Airport.

The document had no other entries of Fujiwara traveling by car.

Cabinet Office officials cited the possibility that a false entry was made in the document, but they noted that no request for reimbursement of travel expenses was made for the portions where Fujiwara traveled by car.

Fujiwara was involved in the process that eventually led to approval given to Kake Educational Institution for the new veterinary medicine faculty.

Also in 2015, Tadao Yanase, Abe’s executive secretary who was in charge of National Strategic Special Zones, held meetings with Kake officials that have fueled speculation that favoritism was involved in the approval process.

Fujiwara now serves as a deputy director-general of the Trade and Economic Cooperation Bureau at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Yanase is now vice minister for international affairs in the same ministry.