TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan's top government spokesman denied on Wednesday (May 17) that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had intervened to help an educational institution run by a friend get permission to set up a veterinary school in a state special economic zone.
Opposition parties have been questioning Mr Abe and other officials for months about the matter.
It is Japan's second political controversy over a school in recent months. In the other case, an educational group with ties to Mr Abe's wife got what critics said was a favourable land deal to build a new school.
Mr Abe has repeatedly denied involvement in either affair.
The Asahi newspaper reported on Wednesday that it had obtained documents showing the Cabinet Office had told the Education Ministry that the Prime Minister wanted the new school approved, and that it was of interest at the "highest level" of the Prime Minister's Office.
"I am aware of the report, but it is not true," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news conference. "The Prime Minister gave no support at all," he added.
Opposition lawmakers have questioned the process by which the government decided to allow a veterinary department to be set up in the special economic zone in south-western Japan, since the government has not approved such departments in decades for fear of a glut of veterinarians.
An official at the educational institute, Kake Educational Institution, could not immediately comment on the media reports, which have also said the city where the new department would be located gave the land for free and that Mr Abe's wife, Akie, was honorary principal of a kindergarten run by Kake Educational Institution.
Education Ministry officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the reports, which said only Kake Educational Institution had applied to set up a school in the special economic zone, where regulations are relaxed, and that its application was under consideration.
Mrs Akie Abe was honorary principal of a kindergarten with a nationalist curriculum run by the other educational group, Moritomo Gakuen, before she stepped down amid the controversy.
Mr Abe, who took office in 2012 for a rare second term, enjoys solid support despite questions about the school affairs and gaffes by Cabinet ministers, partly because the news has lately been dominated by concern about North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes.
A survey this month by the conservative Yomiuri newspaper put his support rate at 61 per cent, almost unchanged from April.