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Editorial: Suspicions deepen as PM Abe dodges questions over sakura party scandal

Does Prime Minister Shinzo Abe intend to end the extraordinary session of the Diet without properly responding to a series of suspicions that have arisen over a taxpayer-funded cherry blossom-viewing party he hosted?

During a plenary session of the House of Councillors on Dec. 2, eyes were on how Abe would respond to a series of misgivings that have surfaced in relation to the function. But the prime minister fended off questions on the grounds that the Cabinet Office has discarded the lists of people invited to the annual party.

There are deepening suspicions that the former chairman of Japan Life Co., a health care product rental firm suspected of having operated a malicious pyramid marketing scheme, was invited to the sakura function in 2015 under a slot endorsed by the prime minister.

Abe said he has "absolutely no personal connections" with the former chairman and that his wife is not acquainted with him. Who, then, used the slot for invitations endorsed by the prime minister, and how did they do so? Abe has refused to confirm this, on the grounds that it is personal information.

The former chairman, however, has already publicly released a copy of the invitation, which was used in the company's promotional material, so surely "personal information" cannot be used as a reason to withhold the information.

The invitation to the former chairman was apparently utilized to give his firm credibility, thereby contributing to the victimization of more people though Japan Life's marketing scheme.

If Abe and his wife are denying any connection with the former chairman, then they should move ahead to shed light on how he came to be invited. Even if the lists of people invited to the function have been destroyed, Abe could get people at his office or the Cabinet Office to investigate. Why is he not trying to clear these doubts?

There are also suspicions that an "antisocial" figure was present at this year's sakura party in April. A quick way to confirm this would be to restore the data of the list of invitees. The prime minister, however, assertively responded that restoration of this data is not possible.

The data is believed to have been kept on an external server. Depending on how it was deleted, there is said to be a possibility that the data still could be restored. The fact that Abe does not appear to have made any attempt to do so only stirs up suspicious that it was quickly disposed of to hide an inconvenient truth.

Furthermore, a lack of transparency remains over a dinner gathering held at a posh hotel on the eve of the cherry blossom-viewing party this year. The government has not provided any documentation to back up its claim that the prime minister's support group did not receive or spend any money related to this party. It is incomprehensible that Abe has not asked the hotel to provide a detailed list of how many people participated in the dinner function at a cost of 5,000 yen per head.

It is suspected that the prime minister and other officials were in effect using the sakura party -- a publicly funded government event -- to boost their election activities.

If the prime minister really wanted to, he could proceed with an investigation into the truth. Avoiding an explanation only deepens suspicions.

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