Yasunori Kagoike, operator of a nationalistic school, gives a sworn testimony during a session of parliament in Tokyo on March 23, 2017. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s approval rating has fallen sharply, an opinion poll showed on March 20, as scandals erode public confidence in a government now in its fifth year. Kagoike recently claimed he received a 8,800 USD donation from Abe for his primary school, plans for which now have been put on ice. / AFP PHOTO / JIJI PRESS / STR / Japan OUT
A controversial nationalist educator said under oath Thursday he had received a donation for his school from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe despite the premier’s repeated denials in an intensifying political scandal that has gripped the country.
The nationally televised testimony by Yasunori Kagoike came as his reportedly shady purchase of government land at a huge discount has dominated media coverage for weeks.
Abe, whose high approval ratings have taken a hit, has repeatedly denied giving Kagoike money and on more than one occasion offered to resign if he was found to be involved in the land deal.
Analysts have said that there would likely be nothing illegal in such a donation, but if proven it could damage Abe’s credibility given his steadfast denials.
Kagoike operates a kindergarten in western Japan that inculcates pupils with pre-World War II nationalist and native Shinto religious values and has made insulting comments about Chinese and Koreans.
When the controversy erupted last month, he was preparing to open an elementary school on the land purchased from the government at a price reportedly some one-tenth the market value.
The complex scandal has dominated parliamentary deliberations for weeks and his testimony prompted a media frenzy with five networks broadcasting it live.
Kagoike was summoned for questioning by lawmakers after his claim last week that Abe’s wife Akie handed him one million yen ($9,000) in cash in his office in 2015 and said the money was from her husband.
Kagoike offered no proof, but told lawmakers that he vividly remembers the day when Akie Abe visited his kindergarten to deliver a speech.
“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 one million yen as a donation,” he told lawmakers.
“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,” he said.
Abe’s government quickly issued a fresh denial.
“Of course, Madame Akie has said she has no recollection” of giving him money, Yoshihide Suga, the government’s top spokesman, told a regular briefing.
Kagoike’s testimony came as newspaper opinion surveys have shown declines in support for Abe amid the scandal.
The top-selling Yomiuri Shimbun found that approval for Abe’s government has recently dropped by 10 percentage points to 56 percent.
Though still high, the daily said it marked the biggest monthly fall since Abe took office in December 2012.
Kagoike has drawn enormous public curiosity as his kindergarten promotes eccentric, nationalistic teachings similar to what was taught through the end of the war.
Pupils, for example, memorise an 1890 imperial decree on education blamed for teaching students they must die for the emperor if necessary.