Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied Wednesday he had instructed officials to give special treatment to his friend's school project despite a local government document describing the plan as a "matter concerning the prime minister."
"I have never accepted any consultation or request" from Kotato Kake, the prime minister told the House of Representatives Budget Committee, referring to his longtime friend who manages Kake Educational Institution. Abe stressed that the government's approval process of the veterinary school project was appropriate.
Abe spoke the day after it was reported the document, written by an Ehime prefectural government official, quoted Abe's then aide Tadao Yanase as saying it was a "PM matter." The premier declined to comment on the document.
Earlier this month, the school operator opened a veterinary department at its Okayama University of Science in a specially deregulated zone in the Ehime city of Imabari in western Japan, where looser regulations are applied as part of the Abe administration's growth strategy.
The prefectural government document, which was confirmed by Ehime Gov. Tokihiro Nakamura as having been written by the official as a memo, recorded a visit to Tokyo by officials of the prefectural and city governments to promote the school project, including a meeting with Yanase on April 2, 2015.
However, Yanase, who now serves as vice minister for international affairs at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said Tuesday he had no recollection of having met the local officials.
Abe said, "I believe (Yanase's) remarks as I trust my subordinates." The premier also said he will look into entry records of Ehime and Imabari officials at his office as the memo says they met with Yanase there.
The premier also said he is usually not briefed on who his secretaries have met.
Opposition forces sharply criticized Abe in the parliament, suspecting the premier used his influence in the government's approval of Japan's first vet department in half a century.
Yukio Edano, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, demanded Yanase and the Ehime official who wrote the memo appear in the Diet so it could be determined which one "told a lie."
The Ehime paper dated April 13, 2015, also mentions Abe and Kake had talked about the school project during a meal, indicating the premier may have known about it earlier than Jan. 20, 2017, the date he officially said he learned of the plan.
Abe maintained Wednesday that he first learned about the school project in January last year, saying he did not discuss it with Kake during the meal in December 2014, the last time he had dined with his friend before April 2015.
Regarding the Kake Gakuen scandal, education ministry documents leaked last year stated Cabinet Office officials used phrases such as "what the highest level of the prime minister's office has said" and "in line with the prime minister's wishes" in explaining the veterinary school project.
(Photo taken from on April 2, 2018 shows Okayama University of Science's veterinary department in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture)