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Docs suggest PM Abe's office had major role in inviting political backers to sakura party

The cherry blossom-viewing party notice sent to supporters of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by his office in his home constituency this past February is seen. It also includes information about the pre-party dinner hosted by his support group. (Mainichi, photo partially modified)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's personal office in his home constituency in western Japan invited local supporters to the annual tax-funded cherry blossom-viewing party hosted by the prime minister, despite the party's stated purpose of recognizing the accomplishments of distinguished figures in various fields.

The prime minister's political supporters were apparently invited to the event under the name of an "Abe office tour," raising more suspicions over Abe's explanations in the Diet that he did not invite people to the event.

The Mainichi Shimbun obtained a copy of the notice for the sakura party sent out by Abe's office in February 2019, a document that starkly highlights the incongruency of the prime minister's explanations in the Diet to date.

During a Nov. 8 House of Councillors Budget Committee meeting, Abe recited the official stance on the cherry blossom party that "since it was first held in year 27 of the Showa era (1952), the prime minister has invited those who have significant accomplishments and made contributions in their respective fields to show appreciation for their efforts, among other things." To explain why so many members of his political support group were invited to the event, Abe went on to say that the ranks of Japan's accomplished individuals "include the people in neighborhood associations in my home constituency as well as executives in parent-teacher associations and other organizations, and naturally, they could overlap with the people in my support organization."

He almost made it sound like his support group members just happened to be the same people who made notable contributions in their fields. However, the letters that his office in his home constituency of Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, sent to his supporters tell a different story.

First, the notification letter for the cherry blossom party sent out sometime between early and mid-February says, "Those who wish to attend should fill in the attached application and contact the Abe office or the secretary in charge by Feb. 20." It is written on the assumption that any of Abe's supporters could join the event if they wanted to.

There is another letter titled, "Participation in the cherry blossom-viewing party hosted by the Cabinet Office." It states that "if one of those joining the party is a family member or friend, please apply with the attached document (you can make copies of the document for use)." Instead of "accomplished persons and those who made contributions in their respective fields," it seems that any family members or friends of Abe's supporters could participate in the event.

In addition, there are some noticeably strange points regarding the chronology of these letters. The Cabinet Office sent out invitations to the cherry blossom party around March 10, but the notice for the event had already been sent to Abe's supporters from his office by late February at the latest. The local office letter furthermore states, "Thank you for joining 'the cherry blossom-viewing party' hosted by the prime minister," even though the document was made before the Cabinet Office invitations were sent out.

Around the same time, documents titled "The Abe office tour plan" and "Cherry blossom-viewing party survey" were also sent out. The former asks recipients to choose one of three tour plans or pick "not attending," and reply to the office by March 8. This means that Abe's supporters had their tour schedule to Tokyo for the party planned out before the official invitations were even issued.

It appears that rather than Abe "not being involved in the final coordination (of the sakura event) done by the Cabinet Secretariat and Cabinet Office," as Abe has earlier stated, his home constituency office played a very large role in choosing and organizing the guests.

Furthermore, it is curious that the survey asks the recipients whether they would be joining the pre-sakura party dinner. Abe told the Nov. 8 upper house committee meeting, "Each participant traveled to Tokyo on their own expense and paid directly to the hotel (where the dinner was held)." The survey asks the participants to pay for the dinner party at the reception that day, but it seems that Abe's office was gathering information on who was coming to the pre-sakura dinner in an organized manner. This leaves rather a different impression than Abe's claim that each guest made their way to Tokyo on their own.

This "Abe office tour," meanwhile, is completely missing from the political funds reports of political groups affiliated with Abe. Professor Hiroshi Kamiwaki, a constitutional scholar at Kobe Gakuin University who is versed in political funding operations, points out that the tour was "clearly the support group's event and it should have been included in political funds reports by the standards of the Political Funds Control Act."

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

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