TOKYO (Reuters) - An ally of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied on Thursday receiving secret political donations from an educational institution at the core of a scandal over suspected favouritism that has sliced Abe's support ratings ahead of a key local poll.
Former education minister Hakubun Shimomura, who heads the Tokyo chapter of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), made the comments at a hastily called news conference just days before Sunday's election for the Tokyo Metropolitan assembly.
The July 2 vote in the nation's capital is on the surface a referendum on Governor Yuriko Koike's first year in office, but it is also shaping up as a chance for voters in the capital to express their views on Abe's administration.
Abe's support slumped in surveys released last week on voter concerns about suspicions that he helped a friend get permission to open a veterinary school in a special economic zone and criticism his ruling bloc rammed a contentious bill through parliament and ended the session to close off debate.
Abe and his aides have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the approval process for the new school to be run by Kake Gakuen (Kake Educational Institution).
Shimomura said an article in the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun that his political support group had received 2 million yen (13,750 pounds) in unreported donations from Kake Gakuen (Kake Educational Institution) was "completely false" and that the timing of the article was an attempt to affect the Tokyo poll.
"I have never received political donations from Kake Gakuen nor did it buy (fund-raising) party tickets," Shimomura said.
"The fact that an article which is completely false has been written at this critical time must be considered as intended to interfere in the election," Shimomura said, adding he was consulting lawyers about legal action.
Koike is aiming for her new "Tokyo Residents First" party and its allies to win a majority in the 127-seat assembly, while the LDP hopes to keep its status as the biggest party.
Abe's government suffered embarrassment this week when Defense Minister Tomomi Inada sought voter support in the Tokyo race saying the request was "from the defence ministry, the Self-Defense Forces, the defence minister and the LDP."
By law, the SDF, as Japan's military is known, must be politically neutral. Inada withdrew the remarks and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga rebuffed opposition calls for her resignation.
Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Michael Perry