The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office’s special investigative unit has decided again not to indict former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in connection with spending on dinner functions held the night before controversial sakura-viewing parties. The team had been investigating the former prime minister in response to a committee for the inquest of prosecution deeming prosecutors’ previous decision not to indict Abe as “inappropriate.”
Following this latest decision, the investigation into Abe has concluded. But his responsibility for accountability remains unfulfilled.
The functions held ahead of sakura-viewing parties were run by an Abe supporters’ group, and took place annually until 2019. Supporters invited to the cherry blossom-viewing parties the following day came together for the dinner functions at high-end hotels.
But participation fees alone were not enough to cover the events’ expenses, and in the four years up to 2019, Abe’s side provided a total of around 7 million yen (about $61,000) in supplementary fees. The former prime minister was accused of giving donations to voters, banned under the Public Offices Election Act.
The investigative unit has judged that participants at the functions did not perceive that they accepted donations. However, the inquest committee pointed out that only a section of participants was interviewed, and that the investigation was not exhaustive.
Prosecutors interviewed a wider scope of participants during their reinvestigation than the initial one. Even so, they reportedly could not obtain testimony attesting that donations took place.
But the suspicion that Abe’s side pitched in for the dinner functions has not gone away.
After the first decision not to prosecute Abe, he said that the payments “took place without my knowledge.” He explained that the funds came from money he assigned to his office due to the personal nature of the dinner functions, and that a secretary acted under their own initiative to release the sums. The amounts involved make this an unnatural explanation.
Because the supplementary funds were used to pay venue fees and other costs, the former prime minister has maintained that the spending does not constitute donations. But he hasn’t provided itemized bills from the hotels and other supporting documents.
The circumstances under which the income from the functions hadn’t been listed on the relevant political funds report have also remained unclear.
The issues do not stop at the dinner functions. The sakura-viewing parties were events paid for with state funds that allowed the prime minister to recognize the achievements of leading figures in various industries. That he would invite local supporters in their hundreds makes this nothing but a personalization of politics.
At the end of 2020, Abe emphasized to the National Diet that he had “fulfilled his responsibility to accountability.” This time, too, he only stated the it was “the result of a strict investigation.” But Abe has denied the supplementary payments and given responses differing from the facts at the Diet 118 times. He must accept the seriousness of giving false statements in the parliamentary meetings.
In autumn 2021, after the House of Representatives election, Abe became chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s largest faction. He is in a position with influence over the current administration. His accountability is again in question.