Tokyo — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied involvement in a decision to let his close friend open a veterinary school, as new evidence emerged about one of a series of government scandals undermining his bid to stay on as leader.
Abe issued his denial in parliament after media reports linking his office to the approval of the college, whose operators were given a free plot of land.
The Asahi newspaper reported on Tuesday that an Abe aide had referred to the project as "a matter relating to the prime minister" during a key 2015 meeting on the matter.
"There was absolutely no problem with the process of establishing this veterinary school," Abe told a committee meeting Wednesday. "In addition, there is not a single person who received instructions from me."
He also denied receiving any requests on the matter from his friend Kotaro Kake, who operates the educational foundation.
The veterinary school case is one of several scandals that have prompted responses from Abe in recent weeks, as his approval rating approaches record lows.
The controversies have raised questions about Abe’s ability to win the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership election in September. Victory would put him on track to be Japan’s longest-serving prime minister.
On Monday, Abe apologised in parliament over the apparent cover-up of documents relating to the dispatch of Japanese troops to Iraq years ago.
Abe said on Wednesday he felt acutely responsible for the document problems and would do all in his power to restore trust.
Two surveys this week have shown his approval rate falling below the disapproval rate. Broadcast news network JNN found disapproval rose 9.5 percentage points to 58.4%, compared with the previous poll last month. Approval dropped by a similar margin to 40%, roughly in line with other recent media polls. National broadcaster NHK found Abe’s support at 38% and disapproval at 45%.
Tokihiro Nakamura — governor of the prefecture where the school was opened earlier this month — told a news conference on Tuesday that local officials did write up details of the 2015 meeting attended by then-Abe aide Tadao Yanase. Still, Nakamura said the document quoting Yanase and printed in the Asahi newspaper had not been found.
Yanase, who told parliament last year that he did not recall the meeting, denied this week being present or making the remarks, Jiji news said.