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Opposition probes possibility Abe knew ex-chairman of questionable firm for decades

Kazuhiro Haraguchi, Diet affairs chief of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, speaks at a meeting of the opposition camp team to get to the bottom of suspicions surrounding the annual cherry blossom-viewing party hosted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Diet building on Dec. 5, 2019. (Mainichi/Koichiro Tezuka)
In this image provided by the Japanese Communist Party, a Japan Life Co. marketing pamphlet highlighting the then company chairman's invitation to the 2015 sakura party hosted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seen. The text at top reads, "A sakura party invitation from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Chairman Yamaguchi has arrived."

TOKYO -- The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) has suggested that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may have been acquainted with the former chairman of a company investigated over a malicious pyramid marketing scheme for 35 years, though Abe has flatly denied they had any personal relationship.

The name of the former chairman, Takayoshi Yamaguchi, surfaced amid investigations by an opposition camp team into invitations to an annual cherry blossom-viewing party hosted by the prime minister. The taxpayer-funded function, which the prime minister hosts each year in spring, has come under scrutiny over the attendance of many people linked to an organization supporting the prime minister.

Suspicions have arisen that Yamaguchi, the former chairman of failed healthcare product rental firm Japan Life Co., was invited to the 2015 party through the prime minister's quota. Japan Life previously ran a fraudulent pyramid marketing scheme and was investigated on suspicion of violating the Act on Specified Commercial Transactions.

At a meeting of an opposition camp team on Dec. 5, Takahiro Kuroiwa, a CDP member of the House of Representatives, pointed to the possibility that the prime minister and Yamaguchi had been acquainted for over three decades.

At a lower house Budget Committee session in 1986, Abe's father Shintaro Abe admitted that he met with Yamaguchi during a visit to the United States in 1984 to attend a U.N. General Assembly session. Shintaro Abe was serving as foreign minister at the time. Prime Minister Abe was then serving as an official secretary to his father as foreign minister.

At the meeting of the opposition party panel, Kuroiwa demanded that the Foreign Ministry examine the records of the prime minister's overseas business trips at the time to confirm if he accompanied his father.

A ministry official replied that the ministry was closely investigating the matter and would give a reply immediately after completing the investigation.

The opposition bloc has grilled the government over allegations that Prime Minister Abe may have invited Yamaguchi to the cherry blossom-viewing party because they had been acquainted with each other since around the time when the prime minister was serving as an official secretary to his father.

Prime Minister Abe told a House of Councillors plenary session on Dec. 2 that he has no personal relationship with Yamaguchi at all.

(Japanese original by Shinya Hamanaka, Political News Department)

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