Ja­pan’s Abe grilled on crony­ism

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

TOKYO: Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe was yes­ter­day grilled by op­po­si­tion party law­mak­ers on his al­leged in­volve­ment in an in­flu­ence-ped­dling scan­dal.

He was accused of hav­ing used his in­flu­ence to ma­nip­u­late a govern­ment de­ci­sion to ben­e­fit a close friend seek­ing to open a vet­eri­nary school in a spe­cial dereg­u­lated zone.

The prime min­is­ter, amid tum­bling pub­lic sup­port, was also ques­tioned over his role in se­lect­ing To­momi Inada as de­fence min­is­ter, as she is cur­rently em­broiled in an al­leged cover-up of logs de­tail­ing the ac­tiv­i­ties of Ja­panese troops in a UN peace­keep­ing mis­sion in South Su­dan.

Speak­ing at a spe­cial ses­sion of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Bud­get Com­mit­tee, Abe main­tained that no favouritism had been shown to his friend Ko­taro Kake, who runs Kake Ed­u­ca­tional In­sti­tu­tion, which is set to open a new vet­eri­nary depart­ment at a pri­vate uni­ver­sity in Ehime Pre­fec­ture in Ja­pan’s north-western Shikoku re­gion.

In a bid to claw back some pub­lic sup­port, Abe re­versed an ear­lier party de­ci­sion for him to not ap­pear in par­lia­ment to be grilled by the op­po­si­tion, as me­dia polls have shown that the pub­lic’s mis­trust in Abe has risen ex­po­nen­tially re­cently.

The prime min­is­ter, who will reshuf­fle his cab­i­net early next month in a fur­ther bid to re­store pub­lic sup­port, con­ceded that he had been friends with Kake since they were stu­dents and they some­times dined to­gether and treated each other to nights out.

Abe main­tained, how­ever, that Kake had never asked for any favours based on Abe’s po­si­tion in pol­i­tics and that he had not given any in­struc­tions per­son­ally on mat­ters re­lated to the vet­eri­nary depart­ment’s open­ing.

Af­ter an op­po­si­tion law­maker dis­played an en­larged print of a pho­to­graph in par­lia­ment show­ing Abe and Kake hold­ing up wine glasses while fac­ing the cam­era, Abe said: “There is a say­ing that one should never al­low room for doubts. Since this is a mat­ter in­volv­ing a friend of mine, it is un­der­stand­able that the peo­ple would look at it with sus­pi­cion.”

Abe, whose rul­ing party has suf­fered de­feats in re­cent lo­cal elec­tions, in­clud­ing in Tokyo, and more re­cently to an op­po­si­tion-backed for­mer law­maker who won the Sendai may­oral elec­tion, later said that the econ­omy re­mained his pri­or­ity.

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