File implies Abe’s specific instruction given in ‘favoritism’ scandal’s-specific-instruction-given-in-favoritism-scandal

The latest document found in connection with favoritism allegations against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suggests an Abe administration heavyweight passed on the premier’s specific instruction about a university project that would benefit a close friend before a decision was made.

The document released by the education ministry on Tuesday, which dates from October last year, quotes Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda as telling a ministry official Abe wanted a veterinary school to be opened in a specially deregulated economic zone by April 2018.

Kake Educational Institution, which is run by Abe’s close friend Kotaro Kake, was selected in January to open the vet school at one of its universities in a special zone in western Japan’s Ehime Prefecture.

Hagiuda denied on Tuesday having made the remark and said the ministry has already apologized for the explanation it gave, as it was “not accurate.”

Despite releasing the document, the ministry repeatedly denied that the remarks were actually made by Hagiuda.

A senior ministry official said Tuesday the memo was found to contain content other than Hagiuda’s comments, based on questioning of the staff who wrote it.

The latest discovery follows the emergence of 14 other files in an internal probe by the ministry. It could deepen suspicion that the system of special zones, which have looser regulations on certain activities as part of the Abe administration’s growth strategy, was used to benefit the educational operator.

Education minister Hirokazu Matsuno told a press conference on Tuesday that the latest document, found in a shared folder, is a personal memo that a ministry staff member created after hearing the head of the ministry’s higher education bureau discuss a conversation he had with Hagiuda on Oct. 21, 2016.

The government’s advisory council on the special zones did not make a decision on setting up the new vet school until its meeting in November 2016.

But the October memo already mentioned the name of Kake Educational Institution, strengthening suspicion that the plan to benefit Kake was already fixed at that stage.

“It would be out of the question for me to make specific arrangements or give instructions to favor Kake Educational Institution,” he said in a statement.

The memo also contains an apparent request to ministry staff to bring up any problems so they could be resolved at meetings between Kake Educational Institution and the ministry, and includes a remark attributed to an aide of Abe’s that “the prime minister’s office is saying we’ll definitely do it.”

The government’s top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, stressed Tuesday that all stages of the selection process for the vet school project were carried out in accordance with the law and without bias.

Speaking at a regular press conference, Suga again dismissed suggestions that a third-party investigation is needed in light of the differences in accounts between the ministry and Cabinet Office.

At a press conference on Monday, Abe reiterated his denial of exercising any influence in the project, saying he has only generally made clear that he wants regulatory reform, including through the special zones, to be carried out speedily.

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party refused Tuesday a request by the main opposition Democratic Party for a special parliamentary session to tackle the claims outside of the Diet sitting schedule.

With the ordinary session that convened in January having ended Sunday, the Democratic Party had proposed holding a session of the budgetary committee of the lower house with the prime minister in attendance.

Kazunori Yamanoi, the Democratic Party’s Diet affairs chief, quoted LDP counterpart Wataru Takeshita as telling him the ruling party “doesn’t feel (the special deliberation) is necessary.”

The Democratic Party now plans to seek other opposition parties’ cooperation in calling for the convening of an extraordinary Diet session. Although there is a provision for this in the Constitution, in practice it is up to the government to decide whether to respond to the request.

“The prime minister has said he will fulfill his responsibility to explain if there is such a request, so by all means, let him fulfill it,” Democratic Party leader Renho said at a party executive meeting on Tuesday.


Abe pledges to regain public trust

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his ratings battered by suspicion he helped a friend get favored treatment for a business, and criticism that he used strong-arm tactics in parliament, vowed on Monday night to regain the people’s trust.

Speaking at a news conference, Abe also said he would start thinking “carefully” about reshuffling his cabinet and key party posts to get the right people to push ahead with reforms.

But he did not confirm a Nikkei business daily report that he would do so in August or September, and would retain Finance Minister Taro Aso and ally Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshide Suga.

A slew of public opinion polls have showed support for Abe’s cabinet slumping sharply, with the Mainichi newspaper reporting that his ratings had fallen 10 points to 36%, the biggest drop since he took office in December 2012.

Non-support for Abe rose to 44%, the first time it surpassed the percentage of backers since October 2015, after parliament enacted controversial security laws expanding the scope for military activities overseas, the Mainichi said.

Last week, the education ministry unearthed documents that the opposition said suggested Abe wanted a new veterinary school run by a friend to be approved in a state-run special economic zone. The ministry had earlier said it could not find the documents but reopened the investigation under public pressure.

Abe has denied abusing his authority to benefit his friend. On Monday, he repeated that procedures had not been “distorted” but acknowledged the government needed to win back public trust.

“We must calmly explain each policy one by one so we can win the trust of Japanese citizens,” Abe said at the news conference marking the end of the Diet’s latest session on Sunday. “I have renewed my determination to do so.”

Opposition politicians and media have identified Abe’s friend as Kotaro Kake, the director of the Kake Educational Institution, which plans to open a veterinary department. The government has not approved new veterinary schools for decades because of concern about a glut of veterinarians.

Almost three-quarters of voters in the Mainichi survey were not convinced by the government’s insistence there was nothing wrong with the approval process.

The institution has said it had acted appropriately.

Voters were split over parliament’s enactment of a law to penalise conspiracies to commit terrorism and other serious crimes. But many expressed distaste for the ruling coalition’s tactics in rushing the bill through parliament.

The ruling bloc took the rare step of skipping a vote in committee and going directly to a full upper house session.

Abe reiterated the necessity of the law . “Although we feel (the law) is essential for strengthening international coordination in dealing with terrorism, we’re aware that some members of the public remain uneasy and concerned about it,” Abe said, reiterating that “ordinary people” will not be subject to either punishment or investigation under the law.

Abe also revealed a plan to launch a panel this summer to discuss ways to foster human resources that he described as a “driving force.”

“We will turn Japan into a country full of opportunities for anyone,” he said.

Experts said voters were irked at signs Abe was guilty of hubris after more than four years in office with no serious rivals, but for now they were betting he could ride out the storm.

“The public doesn’t like the arrogance, but they don’t like the alternatives even more than they don’t like Abe,” said Columbia University professor emeritus Gerry Curtis.

Ruling Liberal Democratic Party support far outstripped that of the opposition Democratic Party, the polls showed.

© Thomson Reuters/Kyodo

Abe’s support slumps amid doubts about school scandal

Support for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe slumped more than 10 points to 44.9% in a public opinion poll published on Sunday, amid opposition party suspicions he used his influence unfairly to help a friend set up a business.

Abe has repeatedly denied abusing his authority to benefit his friend. His grip on power is not in danger, given his ruling coalition’s huge majority in parliament, but the affair looks unlikely to fade away.

The education ministry unearthed documents last week that the opposition said suggested Abe wanted a new veterinary school run by a friend to be approved in a state-run special economic zone. The ministry had earlier said it could not find the documents but reopened the probe under public pressure.

Opposition politicians and the media have identified Abe’s friend as Kotaro Kake, the director of the Kake Educational Institution, which wants to open a veterinary department. The government has not approved new veterinary schools for decades because of concern about a glut of veterinarians.

Nearly 85% of voters responding to a Kyodo news agency survey said they did not think the government probe had uncovered the truth of the affair and almost 74 percent were not persuaded by the government’s insistence that there was nothing wrong with the approval process.

The institution has said it had acted appropriately.

Voters were split over last week’s enactment by parliament of a controversial law that will penalise conspiracies to commit terrorism and other serious crimes, with 42.1% in favor and 44% against the legislation, Kyodo said.

The government says the new legislation is needed so Japan can ratify a U.N. treaty aimed at global organised crime and prevent terrorism in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Opponents say it will allow police to trample on civil liberties by expanding the scope for surveillance.

The ruling coalition pushed the law through parliament last week, taking the rare step of skipping a vote in committee and going directly to a full session of parliament’s upper house.

Almost 68% of voters expressed dislike of that rarely used tactic, Kyodo said.’s-support-slumps-amid-doubts-about-school-scandal

Scandal damage control behind tactic to push through ‘conspiracy’ bill

The circumvention of Japan’s normal legislative process to avoid keeping parliament sitting at a time of image problems for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe makes clear the extent to which the administration is willing to go to protect its figurehead.

It also indicates the ruling coalition of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito is confident that opposition parties are too weak to successfully turn the scandals or the parliamentary drama into fuel for a change of government.

“Dictatorial” was how protesters outside the Diet building, gathering in their thousands to object to “the anti-conspiracy bill,” described the way the ruling camp resorted to a rarely used method of bypassing a committee vote to speed the bill’s passage into law.

With the current Diet session set to end Sunday, the enactment early last Thursday of the law criminalizing the planning of serious crimes meant the government and ruling parties could avoid an extension of the session in the middle of smoldering favoritism allegations against Abe.

At the same time, the release on Thursday of the results of a probe into the allegations, as well as an update from an ongoing government-wide inquiry into inappropriate post-retirement job placements for bureaucrats, were carefully planned to distract voters from the Diet drama and limit the damage from the bypass decision.

The law is controversial in its own right, having split public opinion in polls and attracted the concerns of a U.N. special rapporteur. With opposition parties vowing to do all they could to block it, speculation had been rife that the Diet session would be extended for 10 days or so to allow time for its enactment.

But according to parliamentary sources, the prime minister’s office and the upper echelons of the LDP had already hatched a plan by Tuesday to both railroad the conspiracy bill into law and release the results of the probes on Thursday in an effort to deal with all the inconvenient issues at once.

The plan also included a compromise in the form of a special deliberation session on Friday. According to a senior member of the LDP’s Diet affairs committee, the session gives both Komeito, whose supporters take a dim view of railroading, and the main opposition Democratic Party a chance to let off some steam.

The sources said the sense of urgency behind the committee bypass move stemmed from a rumor planted by the prime minister’s office that spread among lawmakers Wednesday night.

It was rumored that the opposition parties were going to submit a no-confidence motion against the Abe cabinet, and a House of Representatives vote to dismiss it would not take place until at least Thursday afternoon.

That delay would have meant that even after the conspiracy bill became law, lawmakers would still have to come into work on the weekend to deliberate a penal code amendment bill before the session ends on Sunday.

The suggestion to hurry up and get the conspiracy law out of the way in the early hours of Thursday worked a treat on lawmakers eager to make it home to their constituencies on the weekend.

The Democratic Party and three other opposition parties did end up submitting a no-confidence motion in the cabinet, as well as a host of other motions. Diet procedures spanned Wednesday night and the conspiracy law was finally enacted early on Thursday morning.

But not all in the ruling coalition are comfortable with this way of doing things, with a mid-ranking LDP lawmaker warning the committee bypass move risked being taken as a denial of democracy.

“There has been quite a bit of objection within the party,” the lawmaker said.

For Abe, the shrewd management of scandals offers potentially massive rewards.

With a change of government looking unlikely in the face of solid support ratings for the Abe Cabinet, he could potentially remain prime minister until late 2021 if he wins a third straight term as LDP president in a party vote in the fall of next year.

Electoral victories have given the LDP, Komeito and likeminded lawmakers the supermajority needed to formally propose an amendment to the post-World War II Japanese Constitution, which will then have to gain a majority in a national referendum.

Abe made clear last month that he aims to bring an amendment into force by 2020, suggesting the retention of the existing clauses of the war-renouncing Article 9.

The conspiracy law’s rocky enactment indicates the Abe administration is prepared to break with convention to keep intact its hopes of achieving that legacy.


Nifco to sell Japan Times to PR firm News2u Holdings

Nifco Inc agreed Monday to sell all shares in its wholly owned English-language newspaper company The Japan Times Ltd to Tokyo-based public relations firm News2u Holdings Inc by the end of June.

Nifco is selling the daily for an undisclosed sum to focus on its core plastic automotive parts business. News2u, which distributes corporate news online, said that through the acquisition it hopes to “utilize our know-how in digital platforms and our group’s customer base to make The Japan Times fitter for the digital age.”

The publication of the newspaper is expected to continue under News2u. A News2u official said the company is not ready to announce any changes in the management of The Japan Times, but that the newspaper’s some 120 employees are expected to stay on.

Established in 1897, The Japan Times is the country’s oldest running English-language daily with a circulation of over 40,000 copies. In addition to publishing news articles in print and online, the daily also publishes books and a magazine.

Sales in recent years have fallen to half of their peak of about 5 billion yen ($45.3 million) due to a shrinking readership as more people get their news online, according to an official of Nifco, which made the newspaper its subsidiary in 1996.

News2u was founded in 2001 as an online corporate press release provider. In a statement on Monday, the company said that by tapping into The Japan Times’ know-how, it will develop an overseas information dispatch service for its corporate clients.

The Japan Times, which jointly publishes an English-language newspaper with The New York Times Co, is one of more than 50 news organizations that together finance Kyodo News, a nonprofit cooperative, with membership dues.