Two senior government officials denied Friday making remarks attributed to them that appeared in leaked documents related to the Kake Gakuen scandal, spotlighting stark contradictions between the testimonies of education ministry bureaucrats and officials in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet
Koichi Hagiuda, deputy chief Cabinet secretary and a close aide to Abe, told a Diet session Friday that he never urged the Cabinet Office to revise government conditions for allowing a university to open a new veterinary department.
The revised conditions, allegedly proposed by Hagiuda, according to the documents, disqualified Kyoto Sangyo University, a potential rival of Okayama-based school operator Kake Gakuen, from applying for the special deregulation project.
“I have never given any instructions for revisions and am very perplexed by the email disclosed by the education ministry yesterday,” Hagiuda told a special Budget Committee session at the Upper House on Friday.
On Thursday, the education ministry released a revised draft of the government conditions and a related email sent by a Cabinet Office official. The ministry has been conducting an in-house investigation into alleged government favoritism for Kake Gakuen, which is chaired by one of Prime Minister Abe’s close friends..
An official in the ministry, whose name is being withheld, in the email quoted Yutaka Fujiwara, a senior Cabinet Office official, as saying the revision was made based on “an instruction from Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hagiuda of the Prime Minister’s Office.”
The revelation of the draft and email made headlines Friday because Hagiuda is not the official in charge of the deregulation project, deepening public suspicions that Abe, or other officials, took steps to ensure a favorable outcome for Kake Gakuen.
The PDF of the draft showed that three hand-written phrases were inserted into the text that stipulated a university can open a veterinary department “only if” a similar department does not exist in nearby regions.
Opposition lawmakers pointed out the changes favored Kake Gakuen because it disqualified its rival Kyoto Sangyo University because nearby Osaka Prefecture University already has such a department.
On Friday, the Cabinet Office also challenged the credibility of the content of the email, which was sent to the education ministry in November.
According to Kozo Yamamoto, a state minister in charge of the Cabinet Office, the email was written by a Cabinet official who was not in charge of Kake Gakuen issues.
According to a claim made to reporters by Yamamoto on Friday morning, the official, whose name is being withheld by the government, told an investigative team led by Yamamoto that he wrote the email based on “hearsay circulating within his division” without confirming the facts.
During the same Diet session on Friday, Fujiwara also denied that Hagiuda gave any instruction to revise the government conditions.
Fujiwara is considered a key figure at the center of the scandal. According to a Kake Gakuen-related document, Fujiwara in September pressured the education ministry to approve Kake Gakuen’s application “as quickly as possible” by citing the intent of officials at “the highest-level” in the prime minister’s Office.
“My understanding is that I never said anything about what ‘highest-level’ officials said or ‘the intent of the prime minister’ on any specific project,” Fujiwara said.
Meanwhile Fujiwara also pointed out that Abe has frequently said in public that in general, any deregulation project should be carried out as quickly as possible.
Fujiwara said he might have mentioned remarks by Abe on the issue during meetings with education ministry officials. But, he claimed, even if he did, he didn’t mean to say Abe is specifically pushing the Kake Gakuen project in particular.