A citizens prosecution inquest panel took issue with aspects of a decision by Tokyo prosecutors not to proceed with an indictment against former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe concerning allegations over an annual tax-financed cherry blossom-viewing party, calling them inappropriate. Abe allegedly picked up part of the tab for a lavish hotel reception held for his political supporters on the eve of the party.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office should pay serious heed to this verdict by representatives of the Japanese people and mount a fresh and exhaustive investigation. We strongly urge Abe, who has shirked his responsibility to give a full accounting of the scandal, to provide straight answers to all outstanding questions.
The panel challenged prosecutors’ decision to drop the case against Abe on two points.
One concerned a possible violation of the Public Offices Election Law, which bans donations to constituency voters. Covering part of the bills for the hotel reception should have been treated as an offense under the law, the panel concluded.
The panel also questioned the decision with regard to Abe’s failure to adequately supervise the individual in charge of his political funds, saying that it, too, represented a possible legal violation, in this case, a provision in the Political Fund Control Law.
Prosecutors questioned Abe and his aides about the matter, but only on a voluntary basis. They also did not conduct a compulsory investigation against them, or even search Abe’s office for evidence.
The citizens panel said prosecutors should have seized related emails and other materials as potential evidence in addition to questioning Abe and his staff. It concluded the probe into the allegations was insufficient. In response to this harsh verdict, prosecutors have a duty to make all-out efforts in a fresh inquiry into the case.
Abe consistently denied subsidizing the costs of the hotel banquet for his supporters. But prosecutors late last year brought a summary indictment against a former Abe aide over payments to cover a portion of the expenses for the banquet on grounds they were not reported in the Abe support group’s annual political fund reports in violation of the Political Fund Control Law. Abe at that point claimed he was not aware of the payments.
The citizens prosecution inquest panel accused Abe of seeking to evade responsibility for the matter by placing the blame on his aide. The panel said it is “difficult for the public sentiment to accept” Abe’s claim and called on him to “fulfill his responsibility to explain.”
The panel’s argument echoes sentiments held by much of the public. Yet, Abe appears to remain unresponsive to the call.
Arguing that prosecutors came to the right decision not to indict him as a result of a rigorous investigation, Abe only said he will “quietly watch” the new investigation.
The cherry-blossom viewing parties hosted by Abe while he was in office also raised issues other than questions concerning the hotel banquet on the evening prior to the event for voters from Abe’s constituency. Abe invited a large number of his supporters to the functions, official Cabinet events financed by taxpayers that were supposed to be attended by those who have made notable achievements and contributions in various fields. In doing so, Abe effectively used the events for his personal political gain.
The scandal encapsulated the rot in the Abe administration, which outstayed its welcome in power. The list of invitees was destroyed in suspicious circumstances, another sign of the administration’s tendency to give scant attention to the importance of proper management of official documents. Abe failed to offer clear-cut and convincing answers to related questions in another sign of the administration’s disregard of its responsibility to explain its policy decisions and actions.
Abe gave false answers in the Diet to questions related to the hotel banquet on 118 occasions. His behavior struck a serious blow to the legislature’s ability to check the actions of the administration.
All Abe did in response to these questions and suspicions was to offer a perfunctory comment late last year at the Diet following the decision not to indict him.
He has rejected opposition requests for the submission of related documents, such as the hotel’s bill of fees and receipt.
The only way to extract satisfactory answers about the matter from Abe is to summon him to testify at the Diet as a sworn witness who would face a charge of perjury if he lied during his testimony.
To regain public trust in politics, the ruling coalition should agree to hold a special Diet committee session to question Abe even though the legislature is currently in recess.
–The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 3