Japan’s Abe sticks to denials as scandal doubts keep swirling

Shinzo Abe has denied that he ever instructed officials to give preferential treatment for the establishment of Japan’s first new veterinary school in more than 50 years. (Reuters)
Updated 11 April 2018
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Japan’s Abe sticks to denials as scandal doubts keep swirling

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied on Wednesday that he had intervened to secure preferential treatment for a friend’s plan to set up a veterinary school despite new reports he had discussed the matter with the friend.
Abe’s ratings have taken a hit because of several scandals over suspected cronyism and cover-ups, with a steady stream of new allegations raising doubts about how long he can stay in power.
One of the scandals involves suspicion Abe helped a friend, Kotaro Kake, director of school operator Kake Gakuen, set up a veterinary school in a special economic zone exempt from a rule limiting the number of such schools.
Abe has denied that he ever instructed officials to give preferential treatment for the establishment of Japan’s first new veterinary school in more than 50 years.
Abe repeated to a parliamentary panel on Wednesday his assertion that he only became aware of Kake’s proposal when it was approved in January 2017.
His was replying to questions after media this week cited an April 2015 memo from an official in Ehime prefecture, where the school ultimately opened in the special government-designated deregulation zone, that said Kake and Abe had discussed the proposal while sharing a meal.
“No one received instructions from me. There was no problem with the (approval) process,” Abe told the parliamentary panel in response to a question about the memo.
Asked repeatedly whether he had at least had casual talks about the plan with Kake, Abe said his friend had neither consulted him nor asked for favors.
“He said he wanted to take on a new challenge, but we never discussed specifics,” Abe said.
The veterinary schools affair, which emerged last year, is one of several suspected cronyism scandals and cover-ups eroding Abe’s support as he eyes a third term as ruling Liberal Democratic Party leader in a September vote.
Victory in the party poll would set Abe, who took office in 2012, on track to become Japan’s longest-serving premier.
Abe has also denied that he or his wife intervened in the heavily discounted sale of state-owned land to another school operator, Moritomo Gakuen, which had ties to Abe’s wife, Akie.
The finance ministry has admitted doctoring documents related to the murky deal.
Separately, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera apologized again on Wednesday after the military found missing troop activity logs.
Among recently lost-and-found records are those from a controversial 2004-2006 deployment to Iraq. The logs could shed light on whether the dispatch was to a “non-combat” zone as asserted by the government at the time, in line with constitutional limits on military activities abroad.


Stabbing by US Navy SEAL could have killed prisoner, doctor testifies

Updated 14 min 55 sec ago
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Stabbing by US Navy SEAL could have killed prisoner, doctor testifies

SAN DIEGO, California: A pathologist testified Monday at a Navy SEAL’s murder trial that a wounded Daesh (or ISIL) militant in Iraq could have died from a stabbing described by other witnesses.
Dr. Frank Sheridan said he couldn’t determine a cause of death because of a lack of evidence. There was no body, no photos of a knife wound and only photos and video shot by other SEALs — not investigators.
His testimony at the trial of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, though, countered a statement offered last week by another SEAL who stunned the court when he confessed to the killing.
Corey Scott testified Thursday that he killed the victim by plugging his breathing tube after Gallagher unexpectedly stabbed the fighter while treating him for injuries suffered in an air strike outside Mosul in 2017.
Scott testified that the militant, described as an adolescent boy, would have survived the stabbing. Scott previously told investigators that there was nothing he could do to save the boy’s life.
On the witness stand, Scott said he decided to asphyxiate the captive because he assumed he would later be tortured and killed by Iraqi forces who captured him and brought him to Navy medics for treatment.
Gallagher, 40, is charged with murder in the killing of the boy and attempted murder for allegedly gunning down civilians from his sniper’s post.
He has pleaded not guilty and his lawyers blame his former troop mates of fabricating the accusations to get Gallagher ousted from the special forces because they didn’t like his tough leadership.
The defense also said Gallagher was treated unfairly by investigators and prosecutors — a point they tried to make to the jury Monday during cross-examination of a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent.
Two of Gallagher’s sons — ages 8 and 18 — were home during a search conducted by officers armed with rifles, Special Agent Brian Frank acknowledged.
“They were taken out of the house in their underwear with M-4s pointed at them?” defense attorney Tim Parlatore said.
“That’s correct,” said Frank, noting it was standard procedure.
Phones belonging to the children as well as two other phones were seized, Frank said.
Dozens of congressional Republicans have voiced support for Gallagher and brought his case to President Donald Trump’s attention.
Trump had Gallagher moved from the brig to better confinement conditions at a Navy hospital and is reportedly considering a pardon for the decorated sailor.
Scott and another SEAL said last week that Gallagher had initiated medical treatment for the boy and then stabbed him in the neck area for no apparent reason.
NCIS Special Agent Joseph Warpinski testified Monday that Scott told him Gallagher stabbed the boy multiple times.
Gallagher later texted a photo of the corpse to friends with the following message: “Good story behind this, got him with my hunting knife.”
His lawyers said the message was an attempt at dark humor.
The pathologist only had witness accounts and photos and video of the wounded war prisoner to base his testimony.
After the boy was wounded in an air strike — more than an hour before being brought to US forces for treatment — he was interviewed by an Iraqi TV news crew. He appeared lucid and did not have significant hemorrhaging, though his breathing was labored, the doctor said.
“He’s clearly responsive,” Sheridan said.
Sheridan said it appeared that the medical procedures were intended to save the patient’s life.
Witnesses at the scene said Gallagher treated the boy for a leg wound and an apparent case of blast lung from the concussion of the air strike. The patient was sedated and given a breathing tube.
He was breathing normally after the procedure when Gallagher suddenly pulled out his personal knife and stabbed him, witnesses said.
A fixed-blade knife with a distinct black and tan wooden handle that matched the weapon described by witnesses was shown to the jury and identified by NCIS special agent Chris Leiphart as being seized from Gallagher’s belongings.
Depending on the location of the stab wounds, the captive could have died from profuse internal or external bleeding, Sheridan said. But he couldn’t make that determination.
“I can’t give an opinion on the cause of death,” Sheridan said. “There just isn’t enough evidence.”