Ex-Japan PM Abe’s secretary, supporters questioned over 2018 dinner function

25-Nov-2020 Intellasia | Reuters | 6:51 AM Print This Post

Prosecutors have questioned aides of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, including one of his secretaries, over allegations that his office illegally subsidised costs for supporters to attend a 2018 dinner function, investigative sources said Monday.

The voluntary questioning came after a criminal complaint was filed in May against Abe and his aides, claiming the former premier’s office violated the election law and political funds control law in connection with the event held at a Tokyo hotel on the eve of a publicly funded annual cherry blossom viewing party in April 2018.

Abe’s office released a statement saying they are “cooperating with the investigation and sincerely dealing” with the matter. It did not elaborate any further.

About 800 people attended the dinner function at the Hotel New Otani, including many voters in Abe’s constituency in Yamaguchi Prefecture, western Japan. The participants were charged 5,000 yen ($48) each, even though such events at the hotel normally cost at least 11,000 yen each.

According to the complaint filed by around 660 lawyers and legal scholars, Abe and the two senior officials of his support group conspired to cover around 6,000 yen per participant to make up for the shortfall, totalling 4.8 million yen.

Abe, who stepped down as premier in September due to health problems, has denied the allegation, saying, “The expenses were paid by the participants themselves and my office neither had revenues from nor spending for the event. The hotel set the price for the party.”

However, evidence such as a detailed statement from the hotel showed that the Abe camp had partially covered the expenses, sources familiar with the matter said.

The secretary was tight-lipped when asked by Kyodo News, saying, “I do not know anything and I cannot say anything.”

The event was hosted by Abe’s support group headed by the secretary in question.

Similar functions have been held for seven straight years since 2013, with participants also charged 5,000 yen in other years, and this was not mentioned in a report on political funding submitted to the government.

The annual cherry blossom viewing event, which began in 1952 to honor people such as athletes and celebrities for their accomplishments, came under fire when Abe was prime minister since it was revealed that hundreds of his supporters were invited.

For years, guests at the cherry blossom event were traditionally selected based on recommendations from politicians.

Abe had faced criticism from opposition parties claiming the prime minister has used the party for personal gain. Both the number of guests and the amount spent by the government had been rising under Abe.



Category: Japan

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