Home English News Japanese PM Abe and his wife under fire over controversial land sale

Japanese PM Abe and his wife under fire over controversial land sale

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Tokyo – Discussions in the Abe household have presumably been a bit tense of late. The reason: an honorary job gone wrong for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, Akie.

The Japanese premier has been dogged by the scandal for weeks, which involves the bargain-price sale of public land to a controversial new school, where Abe’s wife briefly held a role as honorary principal.

In addition to the land sale, the company running the school has been accused of promoting hatred against Chinese and Koreans.

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Again this week, opposition lawmakers have grilled Abe in parliament over his alleged involvement in the whole affair. The premier says he had nothing to do with the land purchase. His wife has since stepped down from the role, too.

Abe said he “would quit as prime minister and a lawmaker” if he or his wife were found to be involved in the deal.

At issue is an 8,770-square-metre plot of land in the western city of Toyonaka. The operating company, Moritomo Gakuen, purchased the plot in June 2016 for 134 million yen (1.19 million dollars), about 14 per cent of its appraised value of 956 million yen. The land was to be used for a private religious school.

The government said the gap – 822 million yen – was estimated as the cost for land cleanup activities and was deducted from the sale price.

A neighbouring plot of similar size was sold to the city of Toyonaka for 1.4 billion yen in 2010.

“Such a mysterious deal would not have been made without any involvement of a politician,” Japanese Communist Party lawmaker Takeshi Miyamoto said during a session of the budget committee in the lower house of parliament last week.

Miyamoto said he found documents showing a meeting between a person involved in the school project and government officials in September 2015. He demanded the government release records of their talks.

But a finance ministry official said such records were destroyed.

“I have no choice but to call that a cover-up,” Miyamoto said.

Yasunori Kagoike, the head of Moritomo Gakuen, told broadcaster NHK that they had not received any special treatment from lawmakers.

The company made headlines recently after Tsukamoto Kindergarten, which it runs in Osaka City, handed out copies of a statement slurring ethnic Koreans and Chinese, saying they had “evil ideas.” The controversy prompted local government to question school officials, including Kagoike, for suspected hate speech.

At the kindergarten, which is known for providing an ultra-conservative education, children memorize the 1890 Imperial Rescript, which was used to promote emperor-centred and militaristic education before and during World War II.

The school in Toyonaka, where Akie Abe briefly functioned in an honorary role, is due to be opened in April.

“I accepted the offer to be the honorary principal, impressed by Mr Kagoike’s passion for education,” Akie Abe had said on the primary school’s website. Her message was later deleted.

Akie Abe also said the school “will nurture children who have pride as Japanese and a hard core, based on its excellent moral education.”

According to veteran Japanese political analyst Minoru Morita, Akie’s involvement in the school was “against political morality.”

Video footage showed the kindergarten in Tsukamoto making four pupils raise their right arms at a sport event and declare, “Chinese and South Korean people who treat Japan as a bad country should change their minds.”

The footage also showed kids cheering for the premier, shouting, “Go fight, Prime Minister Abe.”

Abe told a parliamentary session on Monday, “I don’t want things like that said at kindergartens at all. I think it is inappropriate.”

But Abe’s connection to the school and it’s principal runs deep.

Kagoike is a director of the Osaka branch of Nippon Kaigi, a right-wing political group that includes 260 conservative lawmakers, including Abe.

According to Morita, Kagoike’s thoughts are similar to Abe’s and the current scandal over the land sale “might threaten the survival of Abe’s administration,” he says.

-dpa