Scandal-hit school operator in Japan sued over unpaid bills

Yasunori Kagoike, administrator of Moritomo Gakuen, speaking to media at an elementary school under construction in Toyonaka, Osaka prefecture, Japan, on March 9, 2017.
Yasunori Kagoike, administrator of Moritomo Gakuen, speaking to media at an elementary school under construction in Toyonaka, Osaka prefecture, Japan, on March 9, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

OSAKA • A Japanese school operator which implicated Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife in a sweetheart land deal scandal has been sued for more than 400 million yen (S$5 million).

Fujiwara Kogyo, a construction company, filed a lawsuit yesterday in Osaka, seeking payment from operator Moritomo Gakuen for unpaid bills arising from the building of a school on state-owned land which Moritomo bought at a steep discount after allegedly pulling strings, the Kyodo News reported.

Moritomo chief Yasunori Kagoike is a director of the influential right-wing lobby Nippon Kaigi, which counts among its brethren several ministers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Fujiwara Kogyo said Moritomo failed to settle bills worth 400 million yen by the due date of March 31.

The total amount owed exceeds 1.6 billion yen, the firm said.

Describing his connection with Mr Abe, Mr Kagoike told the Diet last month that Mr Abe had donated one million yen to Moritomo via his wife Akie in September 2015. This was flatly denied by the Prime Minister.

The school at the eye of the political storm sits on a 8,770sq m plot of government-owned land in Osaka in western Japan.

It was acquired by Moritomo for 134 million yen, just one-seventh of the property's market value.

Prosecutors are expected to formally probe the Finance Ministry's local bureau, which was in charge of negotiating the contentious deal, after accepting yesterday a criminal complaint for breach of trust against the Kinki bureau.

The complaint was filed last month by assembly members in Toyonaka, Osaka, reported Kyodo News. Plans to open the school this month were scrapped after the sweetheart deal came to light.

Mrs Abe, who was named honorary principal of the school but withdrew in February, was dragged back into the spotlight this week when video clips showing speeches she made at an ultranationalist kindergarten operated by Moritomo were uploaded on Akieleaks, a website apparently named after her.

In one clip, Mrs Abe praised the education the children were receiving at the Tsukamoto Kindergarten. The kindergarten drew flak last year for distributing to parents copies of a statement slurring Koreans living in Japan and Chinese nationals.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2017, with the headline 'Scandal-hit school operator in Japan sued over unpaid bills'. Print Edition | Subscribe