Prosecutors decide not to indict Abe over dinner party spending

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe  Photo: AP file

Politics

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Prosecutors said Thursday they decided not to indict former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over allegations his camp illegally paid millions of yen for dinner receptions held for supporters, ending their investigation into a scandal that came to light last year.

They instead issued a summary indictment to one of Abe’s state-paid secretaries, Hiroyuki Haikawa, 61, seeking a fine be imposed on him for his alleged failure to keep some financial records related to the dinner functions as required by law.

Since the scandal came to light in November last year, the former premier has repeatedly denied in parliament the allegation that a group managing his political funds partially covered the costs of the receptions.

The prosecutors said they decided not to indict Abe because there was no evidence he knew of the improper reporting.

When questioned on a voluntary basis on Monday, the former prime minister explained he was not aware that his side had shouldered the costs and their records had not been properly reported, according to sources close to the matter.

A group of Abe’s supporters, which organized the events, corrected Wednesday its political funds reports for 2017 to 2019 to include income collected from attendees of the functions and expenditures paid to host the dinners.

On Thursday, Abe conveyed his intention to offer explanations and correct his past statements in the Diet on the matter to heads of both chambers of the Diet, said Hiroshi Moriyama, Diet affairs chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The LDP and the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan agreed to summon Abe to the Diet on Friday to address the issue.

The development involving Abe, who became Japan’s longest-serving prime minister before stepping down in September due to health reasons, is set to deal a blow to his successor Yoshihide Suga.

Suga served as chief cabinet secretary under Abe and defended the then premier during press conferences and in Diet sessions. “I would like to firmly deal with my (past) explanations, when necessary,” he said Thursday during a speech in Tokyo.

Haikawa heads the group of Abe supporters that hosted the receptions at two luxury hotels in Tokyo between 2013 and 2019 on the eve of the government-sponsored annual cherry blossom-viewing parties, according to investigative sources.

The events cost 23 million yen over a five-year period through last year, much higher than the amounts collected from attendees, many of whom were voters in Abe’s constituency in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

The attendees paid only 5,000 yen each, even though such dinners at the five-star hotels normally cost more than twice the price per head, according to the sources.

To make up for the shortfalls, Abe’s side is believed to have paid a total of 9 million yen over the five-year period. But the supporters’ group and the former premier’s fund management body did not record the income and expenditures in their political fund reports, in violation of the political funds control law.

According to the indictment, Haikawa failed to record the income and expenditures for the dinner events between 2016 and 2019, which amounted to about 3.02 million yen. He has admitted to not keeping the legally required records, the sources said.

The prosecutors said they adopted a summary indictment, a simplified proceeding that typically skips court examination, in light of the amount of income and expenditures not properly reported and past similar cases.

In May, lawyers and scholars filed a criminal complaint against Abe, the state-paid secretary and the former premier’s fund manager, claiming they broke the law by failing to report the payment of the difference between the total costs of each party and the contributions paid by attendees.

The complaint also alleged that Abe and the two others violated the election law by contributing to covering the cost of the gathering, saying it is tantamount to buying votes. But the prosecutors decided not to indict them on that complaint.

© KYODO

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