|Source: AP, Yonhap News|
By AsiaToday reporter Kim Ye-jin - The cut-price land deal scandal involving private kindergarten Moritomo Gakuten, where Japanese prime minister's wife Akie Abe had served as honorary principal, is worsening. People are paying attention to whether the scandal will serve as a bigger obstacle to Shinzo Abe.
Yoshitada Konoike, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and member of the House of Councilors, told reporters Wednesday that he received 200,000 yen in donations from Moritomo Gakuen, reported the Yomiuri Shimbun and other local media outlets on Thursday.
Konoike revealed that the school donated 200,000 yen in 2014 and 2015, citing a report on the political fund balance of 'The 2nd branch of electoral district of Hyogo Prefecture of Liberal Democratic Party'.
The Yomiuri Shimbun said that the school had probably contacted Konoike seeking help to buy government-owned land at a discount. During the press conference, Konoike revealed that he will return the funds to the school.
Moritomo Gakuen acquired a government-owned land in Osaka, aimed for an elementary school, for 134 million yen ($1.18 million), roughly 14% of its estimated value.
The controversy is heating up even more as Konoike mentioned that he received something wrapped in paper that seemed money from Yasunori Kagoike, the head of Moritomo Gakuen, and his wife. Konoike said Yasunori Kagoike and his wife visited his office in the Diet members' building in April 2014 and asked for a favor.
According to the Asahi Shimbun, Kagoike's wife handed him an envelope. Konoike refused to accept it, and said, "You are rude. Go back home!"
With more reports questioning the possibility of bribery for a land deal, there is much attention to whether this scandal will affect Abe. The scandal intensified as Moritomo Gakuen was found to have sought donations purportedly to build a "Prime Minister Shinzo Abe memorial elementary school."
Abe claimed that either he and his wife had nothing to do with the land deal. However, a new survey by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun revealed on Feb. 27 that support rate for Abe Cabinet fell to 60%, down 6% from January.