On April 17th, TNB covered a story, Shinzo Abe Meets Trump Amidst Scandals. Over the weeks since that story was reported, Abe’s situation has worsened. The nationalist / populist leader who ran on a platform of enhancing Japan’s economic and military strength (Financial Times) is facing increased pressure at home.
The trouble began in 2014, when Morimoto Gakuen, a company with strong ties to Abe’s wife Akie, was asking for a discount on a government-owned land purchase. They wanted to build a school, and were trying to keep initial costs low. The then-President of Morimoto Gakuen, Yasunori Kagoike, had many meetings with Finance Ministry personnel and talked about how much Akie supported the deal.
The assessed value of the land was dropped by 85% for Morimoto Gakuen’s construction of their new school. Akie Abe was named the honorary principal after the deal went through and the building was constructed in 2016.
In February 2017, the connection was exposed. Shinzo Abe pledged to resign as Prime Minister if either he or his wife, Akie, was shown to have influenced the apparent sweetheart deal at 15% of appraised value. An official investigation was begun.
In April, 2017, Morimoto Gakuen filed for bankruptcy protection. In July of that year, Yasunorki Kagoike and his wife were arrested for fraud. After posting bail, Yasunori insisted they had been arrested only to silence them, and demanded that the Abes “Tell the truth”. (Japan Times)
The investigation continued. As the weeks passed, complaints came that there was no evidence of any wrongdoing. The investigation was framed as partisan. There were complaints about how long the investigation was taking and how much money it was costing.
In March, 2018, the National Tax Agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa, who had been in charge of the ministry department that handled state property deals, resigned. As one of the most prominent names associated with the scandal, he was said to take responsibility for his handling of the the issue. The pressure was not relieved, and Sagawa later acknowledged destroying some scandal-related documents. That, in turn, started a subordinate investigation into the document destruction. (Stars & Stripes)
Accompanying the start of that investigation was the suicide of an unnamed Finance Ministry executive. The suicide looked suspicious to some because the division in which the suicide worked was the one responsible for green-lighting government land deals.
Documents released last week show that Akie Abe’s aide inquired to the Finance Ministry in 2015 about the possibility of Morimoto Gakuen getting a significant price reduction. That sparked a response from Shinzo. Per the Japan Times:
Abe told a Diet committee Monday that the aide just “inquired about (the availability of) a scheme (for discount) and did not ask for the lowering of the price or for preferential treatment.”
The prime minister repeated that he does not see the need for his wife, who gave a speech at the school, to be summoned to the Diet to testify.
It is possible the Abes are innocent of any wrongdoing and influence peddling. The circumstantial evidence, obfuscation and denials are piling up, though, and the reaction from the Japanese citizenry is obvious.
Abe’s popularity has plummeted to roughly 26% in the most recent polling… which was held in mid-April, before the latest developments in the scandal. (Diplomat) Abe is facing a re-election bid in September, leaving him only a few months to turn things around.
Prime Minister Abe has pinned his hopes on President Trump. As one of Trump’s earliest and biggest international boosters, Abe is hoping that Trump will be able to salvage him politically by arranging a deal to denuclearize North Korea and to then allow Abe a large portion of the credit. To that end, there was a call on Monday between Trump and Abe, and Trump has agreed to meet with Abe before any summit, ostensibly for guidance.
This seems unlikely, based on Trump’s demonstrated unwillingness to credit South Korea’s efforts despite their President Moon Jae-In performing the bulk of the work to bring North Korea to a bargaining table (as shown in Sunday/Monday Trump Tweets), and Trump’s apparent favoring of China, Japan’s oldest rival, just as China is granting valuable trademarks to his daughter Ivanka’s company. (ABC)