Japan PM wife’s name removed from documents in suspected cronyism scandal

Above, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,left and his wife Akie. Abe has repeatedly denied he or his wife did favors for school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which bought state-owned land. (Reuters)
Updated 12 March 2018
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Japan PM wife’s name removed from documents in suspected cronyism scandal

TOKYO: The name of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife was removed from documents regarding a suspected cronyism scandal, media said on Monday, as pressure mounted on the premier and his ally Finance Minister Taro Aso over a possible cover-up.
Abe, now in his sixth year in office, had tried to put behind him questions over the sale of state-owned land at a huge discount to a school operator with ties to his wife, Akie.
The issue last year sharply eroded Abe’s popularity. His ratings rebounded thereafter, but doubts over Abe and his cabinet have been revived with a series of fresh revelations.
Abe has repeatedly denied he or his wife did favors for school operator Moritomo Gakuen, which bought the land, and has said he would resign if evidence were found that they had.
Former Moritomo Gakuen head Yasunori Kagoike and his wife were arrested in July on suspicion of illegally receiving subsidies.
Suspicions of a cover-up could slash Abe’s ratings and dash his hopes of a third term as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Victory in the LDP September leadership vote would put him on track to become Japan’s longest-serving premier. The doubts have also sparked calls for Aso to quit, but the finance minister has said he will not step down.
LDP parliamentary affairs official Hiroshi Moriyama told reporters on Monday that he had been briefed by finance ministry officials that documents related to the land sale had been altered but did not comment on the content.
Media have said the alterations were made after February last year — when the suspected scandal broke — and that words describing the “special nature” of the deal were excised along with the names of several politicians. Broadcaster TV Asahi also said Akie Abe’s name had been removed.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Monday did not directly respond to a question by reporters about Akie Abe but said that the finance minister Aso should investigate the facts.
“What is important is to make everything clear,” he said.
Opposition politicians have called for Aso to resign.
The backing of Aso, 77, who doubles as deputy premier, is vital to Abe’s bid for a third term and a key factor in the stability of his administration.
“This is a deep-seated political problem,” said Yasunari Ueno, chief market economist at Mizuho Securities. “Financial markets must be aware of the risk of Aso resigning.”
On Friday, National Tax Agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa abruptly resigned over his remarks in parliament about the case.
“If Minister Aso signed off on National Tax Agency chief Sagawa’s resignation knowing about the falsified documents, moves seeking his resignation are inevitable,” Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, said on Sunday.
Sagawa headed the ministry division that submitted the documents before he was tapped as tax agency chief in July, an appointment critics saw as a reward for his efforts to diffuse the issue with his statements to parliament last year.
Some LDP members said the saga could undermine the party.
“It is inconceivable that the bureaucrats on the spot had such authority (to alter the documents),” media quoted Shigeru Ishiba, an LDP lawmaker who has made no secret of his desire to challenge Abe in the party race, as saying on the weekend. “If we don’t make clear who did this, trust in the LDP will waver.”
Abe, 63, swept back to power in December 2012 promising to revive the economy and bolster its defense. It was a rare comeback for the conservative lawmaker, who quit abruptly in 2007 after a year in office marked by scandals in his cabinet, a deadlocked parliament and ill health.
His ruling bloc won a two-thirds “super majority” in an October lower house poll, helped by opposition disarray.
A March 9-11 survey by the Yomiuri newspaper showed support for Abe’s cabinet has now fallen to 48 percent, down six points from a month earlier. Non-support rose to 42 percent and 80 percent said that the matter had not been handled appropriately.


Trump sets $8bn-plus in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE

Updated 26 May 2019
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Trump sets $8bn-plus in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE

  • Pompeo says US partners in Mideast need contracts to be completed to help deter Iran
  • Trump’s administration also announced that it was sending 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump, declaring a national emergency because of tensions with Iran, has swept aside objections from Congress to complete the sale of over $8 billion of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan.

The Trump administration informed congressional committees that it will go ahead with 22 military sales to the Saudi Arabia, UAE and Jordan, infuriating lawmakers by circumventing a long-standing precedent for congressional review of major weapons sales.

Members of Congress had been blocking sales of offensive military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for months.

Several of Trump’s fellow Republicans, as well as Democrats, said they would object to such a plan, fearing that blowing through the “holds” process would eliminate Congress’ ability to check not just Trump but future presidents from selling weapons where they liked.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that US partners in the Middle East needed the contracts to be completed to help deter Iran, and that the decision to circumvent Congress was meant to be a “one-time event.”

In documents sent to Congress, Pompeo listed a wide range of products and services that would be provided to the countries. These include Raytheon precision-guided munitions (PGMs), support for Boeing Co. F-15 aircraft, and Javelin anti-tank missiles, which are made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin Corp. 

Iranian malign activity poses a fundamental threat to the stability of the Middle East and to American security at home and abroad. Mike Pompeo

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Other companies that will benefit include General Electric, now cleared to sell engines for use in F-16 fighter jets operated by the UAE, and the US unit of French firm Thales, which was cleared to sell a fuzing system for Paveway IV precision-guided bombs to Britain and the UAE.

It will also likely be welcome news for Britain’s BAE Systems Plc and Europe’s Airbus, clearing the way for installation of Paveway laser-guided bombs on European-built Eurofighter and Tornado fighter jets sold to Saudi Arabia, as well F-15 fighters built by Boeing.

In his memorandum justifying the emergency declaration, Pompeo listed years of actions by Iran. “Iranian malign activity poses a fundamental threat to the stability of the Middle East and to American security at home and abroad,” he wrote and cited “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Tehran.

Trump’s administration also announced that it was sending 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East, which it described as an effort to bolster defenses against Iran over what it sees as a threat of potential attack.

Members of Congress from both parties have worried that Trump is pushing toward war with Iran. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said the administration was responding to important needs from partners.

“This is about deterrence and it’s not about war,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview.