TOKYO • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday denied that he had intervened to secure preferential treatment for a friend's plan to set up a veterinary school despite new reports he had discussed the matter with the friend.
Mr Abe's ratings have taken a hit because of scandals over suspected cronyism and cover-ups, with a steady stream of new allegations raising doubts about how long he can stay in power.
One of the scandals involves suspicion that the Prime Minister had helped a friend, Mr Kotaro Kake, director of school operator Kake Gakuen, set up a veterinary school in a special economic zone exempt from a rule limiting the number of such schools.
Mr Abe has denied that he ever instructed officials to give preferential treatment for the establishment of Japan's first new veterinary school in more than 50 years.
He repeated to a parliamentary panel yesterday his assertion that he only became aware of Mr Kake's proposal when it was approved in January last year.
The Prime Minister was replying to questions after the media this week cited an April 2015 memo from an official in Ehime prefecture, where the school ultimately opened in the special government-designated deregulation zone, that said Mr Kake and Mr Abe had discussed the proposal while sharing a meal.
"No one received instructions from me. There was no problem with the (approval) process," Mr Abe told the parliamentary panel.
Asked repeatedly whether he had at least had casual talks about the plan with Mr Kake, Mr Abe said his friend had neither consulted him nor asked for favours.
"He said he wanted to take on a new challenge, but we never discussed specifics," Mr Abe said.
The veterinary school case, which emerged last year, is one of several suspected cronyism scandals and cover-ups eroding Mr Abe's support as he eyes a third term as ruling Liberal Democratic Party leader in a September vote.
Victory in the party election would set Mr Abe, who took office in 2012, on track to becoming Japan's longest-serving premier.
Mr Abe has also denied that he or his wife Akie intervened in the heavily discounted sale of state-owned land to another school operator, Moritomo Gakuen, which had ties to Mrs Abe.
The Finance Ministry has admitted doctoring documents related to the murky deal.
Separately, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera apologised again yesterday after the military found missing troop activity logs.
Among recently lost-and-found records are those from a controversial 2004-2006 deployment to Iraq.
The logs could shed light on whether or not the dispatch was to a "non-combat" zone as asserted by the government at the time, in line with constitutional limits on military activities abroad.