Abe denies allegations over party guests

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says the list of guests invited to an annual cherry blossom-viewing party in April was disposed of as scheduled and denied that it was related to a disclosure request by an opposition lawmaker.

Abe made the remarks while replying to a question from a member of his Liberal Democratic Party in the Upper House on Monday.

The Cabinet Office said it shredded the documents containing the long list of more than 15,000 guests in the afternoon of May 9. The shredding came shortly after a Communist Party lawmaker asked the office for the list.

Opposition parties say party guests included some dubious figures, including the former chairman of a health equipment company. The failed company, Japan Life, is suspected of fraudulent business programs.

Abe said the shredding of the documents was scheduled for May 9 after taking into account the availability of large shredding equipment and the schedule of officials in charge.

He also said he has been informed that the digital data cannot be restored. But he indicated that the government will consider changing the period of time for which lists are kept.

An opposition lawmaker said it is believed that Japan Life's former chairman, Masayoshi Yamaguchi, was among guests recommended by Abe for the cherry-blossom viewing party in 2015. He asked why Yamaguchi was invited the year after the company had received administrative guidance from the Consumer Affairs Agency to correct its business practices.

He also asked whether Abe and his wife know Yamaguchi.

Abe refused to answer, saying that he cannot comment on individual cases as they concern personal information. But he said he does not deny the possibility that he had attended gatherings at which Yamaguchi was also present, and added neither he nor his wife have met him one-on-one. He also denied having any personal relationship with the businessman.

Abe referred to the opposition's allegation that Japan Life used the party invitation sent to Yamaguchi to solicit customers. Abe said that generally speaking, it's unacceptable for the cherry-blossom party to be exploited for illegal or unlawful activities by individuals or companies.