Asia

Japan school: Donation row grows for PM Shinzo Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers remarks on North Korea accompanied by U.S. President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida US, 11 February 2017 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Abe has denied giving money to the controversial school

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave money to a controversial nationalist school, its head told parliament, amid an escalating political scandal.

Yasunori Kagoike said the donation had been passed to him by Mr Abe's wife, in testimony that contradicted Mr Abe's repeated denials.

The school is under fire both for its proposed curriculum and the low price it paid for state-owned land.

The scandal has gripped the nation and hit Mr Abe's approval ratings.

Mr Kagoike's testimony to parliament was broadcast live on several Japanese television networks.

'Such an honour'

At the heart of the controversy is a primary school that he planned to build in Osaka, Japan's second city.

Mr Kagoike already runs a kindergarten that has come under scrutiny for drilling its young charges in pre-war nationalistic principles and patriotism.

His organisation, Moritomo Gakuen, bought land to build a primary school run on a similar curriculum but Japanese media say he paid less than a sixth of the land's value.

Critics allege the government intervened to award the school a large discount. The government says the discount related to industrial waste found on the site.

Image copyright Kyodo/Reuters
Image caption Critics say the school paid far less than market price for the land in Osaka

Mr Abe's wife, Akie, was named as honorary principal of the school for several months before resigning in February.

But the prime minister, regarded by many as a right-wing hawk with a revisionist view of Japan's war history, has denied any role in the land deal and offered to resign if any proof emerged.

Mr Abe has also denied donating money to the school, though it would not have been illegal.

Lawmakers summoned Mr Kagoike to parliament for questioning after he said last week he had received money from the prime minister via his wife in 2015.

He told parliament he clearly remembered the occasion: "She asked her aide to step outside.

"When it was just the two of us alone in the room, she said 'This is from Shinzo Abe' and gave me an envelope containing 1m yen [£7,200; $8,980) as a donation.

"I have heard Madame Akie has [recently] said she absolutely does not remember it. But for us, it was such an honour and I remember it very well."

Asked about the land deal, he said: "My understanding is that political involvement probably took place regarding the acquisition of state-owned land."

Responding to the testimony, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga rejected Mr Kagoike's allegations: "Following our checks with Ms Akie [Abe], there are no records of any receipts, and Ms Akie herself has not made any donations.

"That continues to be our understanding and is unchanged."

Mr Abe's polling figures have fallen as the scandal has rumbled on. However, the most recent poll, in the Yomiuri newspaper, put support for him at a still-healthy 56%, down 10%.

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