The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office decided not to indict former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over allegations that his office illegally subsidized dinner receptions held the night before sakura viewing events that Abe hosted in the spring during his time as prime minister, citing a lack of evidence.
Abe’s publicly funded chief secretary, who headed Abe’s supporters’ group, was given a summary indictment for failing to record some 30 million yen (about $290,000) in political funding reports. Abe’s secretary was the only one who has been held criminally responsible over the case, but that is not going to be enough.
Under the Political Funds Control Act, those who are criminally responsible for failure to record income and outlays in political funding reports are those responsible for accounting and those who support accounting tasks. Politicians are not penalized unless they are in collusion with those people either by directing them not to record income and expenditures, or approving the lack of those records.
The special investigative team of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office was unable to find evidence to corroborate Abe’s collusion in the case. At a press conference Abe gave after prosecutors decided not to indict him, he told reporters that “Everything was done without my knowledge.”
Still, it was extremely unusual for a former prime minister to be questioned by prosecutors for a scandal involving money and politics that occurred during his tenure as prime minister. It is a serious state of affairs.
Even though prosecutors dismissed the charges against Abe, suspicions still remain. Abe had emphasized that “it was the participants who had entered into contracts with the hotels that served as venues, and there was absolutely no income or outlays for the supporters’ group.” It was a preposterous explanation.
It is hard to understand, also, why he did not confirm detailed statements and receipts that would have been issued by the hotels, considering how he was being grilled about them in the Diet.
Regarding the dinner receptions held the night before the sakura viewing events, Abe repeatedly told the Diet that he had not subsidized the cost of participation. He made such “false statements” at least 118 times in five months.
Abe was alleged to have violated the Public Offices Election Act as well. The thinking went that not only would it amount to donations to voters if his office had been subsidizing participants’ dinner reception costs, but having his supporters attend the sakura viewing events would amount to bribery.
The special investigative team decided it would not indict Abe on these allegations, either, one of the reasons being that the participants of the sakura event did not have the awareness that they had reaped benefits.
But the sakura viewing event had been held using public funds by the prime minister to recognize the accomplishments of people in various fields. If inviting many of one’s supporters to such an event is not appropriation for one’s own gain, then what is? The dinner receptions held the night before were essentially a part of the event.
The Tokyo Summary Court issued a summary order of a 1 million yen (about $9,660) fine to Abe’s secretary, so there will be no trial. Unless there is a mandatory indictment by a prosecution inquest panel, the path to revealing the truth in a court of law is blocked.
Abe said he was to give an explanation about the case to the Committee on Rules and Administration in both chambers of the Diet on Dec. 25. But thinking about how things have unfolded thus far, he should appear as a sworn witness in the Diet, whereby he will be penalized if he tells any lies.