Photo/IllutrationYukio Edano, head of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, poses a question to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the debate of party leaders on May 30. (Satoru Semba)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on May 30 said he does not need to resign because neither he nor his wife accepted bribes in a real estate scandal, drawing criticism that he is moving the goalposts.

“I asserted that I was not involved at all in the deal in the context” of accepting bribes, Abe said at the first one-on-one Diet debate with leaders of opposition parties in around 18 months.

Yukio Edano, head of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, had brought up Abe’s remark made in the Lower House Budget Committee on Feb. 17 last year, in which he said that he would resign as prime minister and as a Diet member if he or his wife, Akie, were involved in the dubious sale of state-owned land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen in 2016.

“Diet debate has been conducted on the premise that the prime minister asserted that he will resign if he or his wife were involved in the land deal, but if the prime minister is now adding another condition (bribery), it will be cowardly,” Edano said.

Edano was referring to Abe's remark made in the Upper House Budget Committee on May 28.

In response to a question by an opposition lawmaker during that session, Abe said his wife played no part in the land transaction in the sense of receiving money or valuables.

“In the political world, swaying a policy through an exchange of money or valuables has been a big issue,” he said. “In that sense, I was not involved at all.”

Abe said he made a similar comment in the Diet in March last year about his view on what constitutes “involvement.”

Opposition parties say the huge discount given to Moritomo Gakuen was a political favor stemming from the former director’s connections to the first lady. Her name appears in Finance Ministry documents related to the land deal.