TOKYO – The head of a Japanese nationalist school at the heart of a swirling political scandal gives sworn testimony in parliament on Thursday, the latest twist in a crisis that is chipping away at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s popularity.
Abe has said neither he nor his wife, Akie, intervened in a sweetheart land deal in which educational group Moritomo Gakuen, based in Osaka, western Japan, bought state-owned land at a fraction of its appraisal price to build an elementary school.
Abe has also denied allegations by Yasunori Kagoike, who has said he would step down as head of Moritomo Gakuen, that Akie had donated 1 million yen ($9,000) on the prime minister’s behalf.
“Since their claims are sharply at odds with each other, the truth needs to be cleared up for the public to see,” said a recent editorial in the Asahi newspaper.
Akie had been set to be honorary principal of the school, which was to open in April with a curriculum based on prewar patriotism that taught students to be subjects, not citizens. She cut her ties after the scandal broke. The group also runs a kindergarten with a similar curriculum.
Kagoike will appear at budget committees of the upper and lower house on Thursday to give testimony under oath, and could face perjury charges if he is later found to have lied.
Kagoike is a member of Nippon Kaigi, a nationalist lobby group that promotes a traditional ethos mixing Shinto myth, patriotism and pride in an ancient imperial line. The group has close ties to Abe and his cabinet.
Defence Minister Tomomi Inada, under fire for an unrelated possible cover-up at her ministry, has also been ensnared in the school scandal. She had denied appearing in court on Kagoike’s behalf but had to correct her statement to parliament after court records showed she had. She said her memory was faulty.
Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party had resisted opposition calls for Kagoike to testify but agreed after he said Abe had donated money, calling the allegation an “insult” to the prime minister.
Abe’s support fell 10 points to a still-robust 56 percent in a Yomiuri newspaper survey published this week, the biggest drop since he returned to office for a rare second term in December 2012.
Abe quit abruptly in 2007 after a year at the top plagued by scandals in his cabinet, an election drubbing and ill-health.