Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday denied he had knowledge of a veterinary school project at the center of favoritism allegations much earlier than he has previously admitted, as shown in a newly disclosed document.
Abe has maintained that he learned of the project in the western Japan prefecture of Ehime on Jan 20, 2017, when a government economic panel approved the project, but the document presented by the Ehime government to the Diet Monday apparently shows he met with Kotaro Kake, the chief of the school operator, and talked about the project on Feb. 25, 2015.
"The prime minister's office records were checked yesterday, just to be sure," Abe told reporters, but he said no proof of a meeting with Kake was found.
Abe has been dogged by allegations that he used his influence to sway the approval process that led to the opening last month of a veterinary department under a university operated by Kake Educational Institute in Imabari, Ehime.
Opposition parties demanded that the matter be taken up in both chambers of the Diet as the latest document from the prefectural government raises doubts about the credibility of Abe's statement about the school project.
They also demanded that the Ehime governor testify in the Diet, but Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party rejected the call.
Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary general of the leading opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said Abe needs to present hard evidence to refute the contents of the document.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said records of visitors to the prime minister's office are kept only briefly and nothing was found to show Kake came to see Abe in 2015.
A senior Ehime prefectural government official said the document "honestly" recorded what a government official heard from Kake officials.