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Some guests at dinner held before PM Abe's sakura party allegedly didn't pay fee

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seen at the sakura-viewing party at Tokyo's Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, on April 13, 2019. (Mainichi/Shinnosuke Kyan)
The Hotel New Otani Tokyo, where a pre-party dinner was held before the cherry blossom-viewing event this past April, is seen in this file photo taken in Chiyoda Ward on Feb. 28, 2018. (Mainichi/Satoru Iwashima)

TOKYO -- Some attendees at a dinner organized by a support group for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe the night before a taxpayer-funded cherry blossom-viewing party didn't pay a participation fee, a local assembly member from Abe's home constituency claims.

Yoshiko Tanabe, an independent member of the Shimonoseki Municipal Assembly in the western Japan prefecture of Yamaguchi, testified at a hearing over the controversial sakura event held by the opposition camp on Dec. 19 that some women who attended the pre-party event told her that they didn't pay the 5,000-yen participation fee.

The prime minister earlier told the Diet that the fee was collected from each of the attendees and later handed over to the hotel, adding that his support group did not receive or spend any money for the function.

"Workers at the Abe office collected 5,000 yen each from guests at the reception, and immediately issued a receipt in the hotel's name. The money was then handed over to the hotel. Hotel employees were present at the reception," Abe had told Diet deliberations. "Since the Shinzo Abe support organization didn't gain or spend any money for the function, it had no obligation to write the event down in its political funding report."

One opposition party legislator pointed out that if meals and drinks were served at an event organized by Abe's support group and it failed to collect fees, it could constitute a violation of the Public Offices Election Act.

The pre-party event was held at a banquet hall at the Hotel New Otani Tokyo in the capital's Chiyoda Ward on April 12, the night before the annual sakura-viewing gathering hosted by Abe. Some 800 people reportedly attended the pre-party dinner.

Tanabe also quoted another attendee as telling her, "I paid 5,000 yen to a person who took me to the venue. I wasn't given a receipt for that."

After the hearing, Tanabe told reporters that three members of a women's organization based in Shimonoseki were present at the pre-party dinner but didn't pay the fee. The local assembly member quoted one of them as saying, "I saw a man at the entrance but didn't pay the fee because I thought it was included in the tour cost."

(Japanese original by Shinya Oba and Yoshiaki Ebata, Integrated Digital News Center)

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