Japan’s Abe grilled on cronyism
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.