Japan PM Abe under fire over dealings claims in Kake scandal

This comes a few months after the conservative premier was forced to deny connections to a controversial director of a school.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Reuters

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was under mounting pressure on Friday after he was accused of using his influence to help a friend in a business deal, as two official reports appeared to back up the claims.

This comes a few months after the conservative premier was forced to deny connections to a controversial director of a school that had purchased government land at a huge discount. According to reports, Abe's wife was counted as its honorary principal.

Abe, who is power since late 2012, is in little danger of losing his job. But, his popularity has taken a hit in the midst of the latest shady dealings claims.

Earlier this week, the education ministry and Cabinet Office confirmed the existence of documents similar to ones that the opposition pointed to as evidence Abe used his power improperly to pressure bureaucrats into helping a friend.

Last month, the Asahi newspaper reported the claims. The documents suggested that the education ministry was pressured to grant approval for a new veterinary school run by one of Abe's old university buddies.

The friend, Kotaro Kake, allegedly wanted to open his school in a special economic zone so that he could bypass the ministry's cumbersome regulations.

Last month, the education ministry launched a probe in response to the claims. But, the investigation was quickly closed and said that it "could not confirm the existence of the documents". However, the minister flip-flopped a week later, saying the documents did exist.

"I'm taking this result seriously," Education Minister Hirokazu Matsuno told AFP this week.

The Cabinet Office said on Friday that it had found similar papers, but questioned whether they proved Abe intended to pressure education ministry bureaucrats. "There was no such instruction from the prime minister," top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said on Friday.

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister had denied claims that he made a donation to the school at the centre of the land scandal. Yasunori Kagoike, the director of the school, had gained notoriety for operating an Osaka kindergarten that instills pupils with ultra-nationalist views.

Public broadcaster NHK conducted a poll this week showing Abe's government had a 48 per cent support rating, down three percentage points from a month ago. The survey showed that his disapproval rating rose six percentage points in that time frame to 36 per cent.