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Abe's wife accused of giving envelope of cash in Japan scandal

Thursday, March 23, 2017 - 12:09

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Speaking under oath, school principal Yasunori Kagoike said that Akie Abe personally handed him an envelope with 1 million yen (S$12,559) in cash during her September 2015 visit to a kindergarten operated by the nationalist group.

[TOKYO] The head of a Japanese educational foundation at the center of a real estate scandal told parliament he received a donation from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe via his wife.

Speaking under oath, school principal Yasunori Kagoike said that Akie Abe personally handed him an envelope with 1 million yen (S$12,559) in cash during her September 2015 visit to a kindergarten operated by the nationalist group. Mr Abe has denied donating to the group either directly or through his wife.

The prime minister's association with the foundation, known as Moritomo Gakuen, has dented his popularity and may prompt him to delay calling an election due by the end of next year. Questions over how the foundation was able to purchase publicly owned land in Osaka for a fraction of its market value have dominated parliamentary discussions for weeks.

Mr Kagoike said he was "surprised by the large discount" his foundation received to buy the land from the Ministry of Finance to build an elementary school. When asked whether there was political involvement in the deal, he told lawmakers that he thought there was.

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Nationalist School Kagoike first made the allegations of the donation in a meeting with opposition lawmakers last week. Mr Abe's denials prompted lawmakers to summon Mr Kagoike to clarify the matter under sworn testimony. The prime minister has also said he'd step down if any link emerges between himself and the real estate transaction.

When reports of the alleged donation emerged, the government's chief spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, said he had "absolutely no idea" what Mr Kagoike based his remarks on.

Akie Abe had been set to act as honorary principal of a new elementary school to be operated by the foundation, but dropped the plan as the scandal swirled. A poll conducted by the Yomiuri newspaper on March 18-19 found that support for Mr Abe's cabinet had fallen to 56 per cent from 66 percent the previous month.

The Tsukamoto kindergarten is known for making children bow to portraits of the emperor and recite a 19th century imperial decree on education - practices dropped elsewhere after Japan's World War II defeat. Last month, the kindergarten apologized for using expressions that "could cause misunderstanding among foreigners." Kyodo news agency reported that the principal had been questioned over alleged slurs against Koreans and Chinese.

Lawmakers summoned Mr Kagoike to parliament under his real name, which is Yasuhiro Kagoike.

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