TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe donated 1 million yen ($9,000) through his wife to a school run by a group of ultranationalist educators, the group's leader told Parliament on Thursday, while also suggesting there was "political influence" in a land-buying scandal involving the school.
First lady Akie Abe was honorary principal of the elementary school for several months until she resigned two weeks after the scandal erupted in early February.
In sworn testimony in Parliament, Yasunori Kagoike, head of the Moritomo Gakuen group, said Akie Abe handed him the cash in an envelope on behalf of her husband during a September 2015 visit to Kagoike's kindergarten in Osaka.
Shinzo Abe has denied making such a donation, which would have been legal under Japanese law because Osaka is not part of Abe's electoral constituency.
He has also denied having any influence over the sale last year of state property to Kagoike for 134 million yen ($1.2 million), one-seventh of its appraised price.
In a statement on Facebook, Akie Abe also denied making the donation or influencing the land deal. She acknowledged, however, that she had her official assistant respond by fax to an inquiry about the land purchase from Kagoike, though she denied giving him any preferential treatment.
The Abes' ties to Kagoike have raised questions because of his extreme views on history and his derogatory comments about Chinese and Koreans, and the land scandal has eroded Abe's support in opinion polls. Abe has said he will resign if any evidence of involvement by him, his wife or their office is found.
The curriculum at Kagoike's school is seen as resembling that of pre-World War II militaristic Japan. Kagoike is affiliated with the powerful political lobby Nippon Kaigi, which was believed to be behind Abe's political comeback in 2012 and has become influential in pushing the prime minister's conservative platform.
Abe has previously spoken fondly about Kagoike's education policies but has since distanced himself from him, criticizing him for being too persistent.
Kagoike said he was revealing the truth about Abe, whom he described as being supportive before brushing Kagoike off once the scandal emerged. He said the Abes have kept close ties to him, and Akie had exchanged dozens of text messages with his wife despite the scandal.
Kagoike told parliament he believed there was "political influence" in his land purchase and plans to open an elementary school.
"I believe there was political influence one way or the other at every occasion and place (during the approval process)," he said, without elaborating.
Kagoike said the school project advanced rapidly through the licensing process but then fell apart, and that he has been portrayed as the bad guy. He urged lawmakers to question Akie Abe, her assistant and finance ministry bureaucrats to clarify their involvement in the land purchase.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Thursday reiterated Abe's denial of any donation or political influence over the licensing of the elementary school, where construction is almost complete.
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