The special investigation unit of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has been investigating allegations that the office of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe covered shortfalls in expenses for dinner functions held the night before state-funded annual cherry blossom-viewing parties he hosted.
The dinner functions, organized by Abe’s support group, were held at fancy hotels in the capital. Attendees were charged a fee of 5,000 yen (about $48) per person.
However, over the course of the investigation, suspicions have surfaced that sums exceeding the total collected from the guests were paid to the hotels. The difference is said to total some 8 million yen (about $77,000) over the five years up to 2019.
The revenue from the guest fees and expenditures for the dinner functions were not recorded in the support group’s political funding reports. If the group made up the balance, the failure to list the transactions would be a violation of the Political Funds Control Act.
If the hotels provided priced services to guests in excess of the fees they paid, and Abe’s support group picked up the tab for the difference, it could run counter to the Public Offices Election Act’s prohibition against donations to voters. Legal scholars and others have filed criminal complaints against Abe and his aides over these allegations.
During his earlier Diet appearances, Abe denied that his supporters’ group had ever covered the shortfalls, saying, “The hotels set the fees and the participants paid those fees at their own expense.” If his support group had actually paid the balance, his statements would contradict reality.
Regarding the reason for not listing the revenue and expenditure in the political funding reports, Abe said, “Staff at my office collected fees at reception and handed the money to the hotels. My supporters’ group absolutely did not book any revenue or expenses for the events.” He also claimed that it was the individual participants who made contracts with the hotels.
Abe has insisted that his office did not receive detailed statements of expenses for the dinner functions from the hotels, and has adamantly refused to ask them to reissue such documents.
Suspicions have also been raised over these explanations.
The Tokyo prosecutors’ special investigation unit has been questioning Abe’s aides on a voluntary basis, including his top state-paid secretary who heads the former prime minister’s support group. The investigation unit is also reportedly considering questioning Abe himself down the road. Prosecutors are urged to fully probe the case.
Under the Abe administration, House of Representatives member Yuko Obuchi resigned as minister of economy, trade and industry over dubious accounting regarding a theatergoing event organized by her support group.
After the special investigation unit’s probe into Abe’s scandal made headlines, the former prime minister went no further than to say, “My office will cooperate with the investigation, but I will refrain from commenting on the case at this point as it is still under way.”
However, the statements Abe has made as prime minister in the Diet carry grave weight. Now that inconsistencies between his remarks and reality have surfaced, he should once again provide an explanation before the legislature. If he is to keep insisting that he has nothing to hide, then there is the option to call for the convening of the Deliberative Council on Political Ethics, which was set up in both houses of the Diet to enforce political ethics among lawmakers.