Abe apologies over political funding misconduct

A political funding scandal that dogged former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe resurfaced Thursday as Tokyo prosecutors brought a summary indictment against one of his aides. But the prosecutors said there wasn't enough evidence to charge Abe.

The scandal involves allegations of illegal subsidizing of dinner parties for voters. Abe secretary Haikawa Hiroyuki is accused of misreporting income and expenditure totaling about 30 million yen – around $290,000 – for the gatherings, which were held on the eve of state-funded cherry blossom-viewing events between 2016 and 2019 while Abe was in office.

Haikawa also headed the political support group that organized the parties. He was ordered by a summary court in Tokyo to pay a fine of one million yen.

"I want to make a sincere, sincere apology to the public and to all members of the ruling and opposition parties for bringing about this situation," said Abe. But he denied any wrongdoing. "The accounting was done without my knowledge. I had checked with my office again and again. I gave answers (to the Diet) to the best of my knowledge at the time. But ultimately, some of what I said was contrary to the facts."

In May, more than 600 lawyers and legal scholars submitted a letter of complaint to public prosecutors in Tokyo against both Abe and his aides over the unreported payments for the parties. He told the Diet that his office and support group had no income or spending to declare in funding reports.

Prosecutors questioned Abe on a voluntary basis on Monday and decided against indicting him, saying there wasn't enough evidence to hold him criminally responsible.

The lawyers who submitted the original complaint questioned whether the investigation was fair and rigorous. They said they will consider filing for an inquest of prosecution.

Cherry blossom-viewing events
Government-funded cherry blossom-viewing events held at Shinjuku Gyoen park in Tokyo in 2019.

On Friday, Abe offered explanations to committees in the upper and lower houses of the Diet. Opposition members asked him how he would take responsibility for the comments he made in the Diet while in office that turned out to be false.

"Don't you think you should resign as a lawmaker, considering the compliance standards of private sector executives?" asked Tsujimoto Kiyomi, a member of main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party.

Abe evaded the question, saying he accepts sole responsibility for the wrong answers, but "will make every effort to regain public trust."

Abe later told reporters that he thinks he has fulfilled his accountability to a certain extent and intends to run in next year's lower house election.

Opposition members are now considering launching an investigation that could involve calling Abe to give sworn testimony to the Diet. "Frankly speaking, the suspicions have deepened," says Fukuyama Tetsuro, the Secretary-General of the Constitutional Democratic Party. "Abe's answer was insincere. The only thing we've been with is 'his secretary did it and he didn't know about it.' It's extremely regrettable and totally unacceptable."