TOKYO -- The government refused at a Diet session on Jan. 27 to disclose the records of its disposal of digitized lists of invitees to annual controversial cherry blossom-viewing parties that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hosted, citing fears that state secrets could be leaked.
"The National Security Secretariat also uses the same computer system, so (confirming the records) would increase the risk of the leakage of national secrets. We'll check data only to confirm if the system was hacked," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on Jan. 27.
He then told the panel that the timing of deleting electronic data is left up to each ministry and agency, and suggested that the government does not have to comply with the opposition camp's demands that the documents be disclosed.
Opposition parties have been grilling the government over the annual cherry blossom-viewing parties, including a pre-party event held at a Tokyo hotel the night before the April 2019 party, on top of other scandals hanging over the Abe government.
The annual taxpayer-funded parties are controversial because many members of Abe's supporting organization in his home constituency in the western Japan prefecture of Yamaguchi were invited to the functions. Also, the former head of a company that went under after engaging in a malicious pyramid marketing scheme allegedly received an invitation to the 2015 party.
The prime minister was jeered by members of the opposition camp when he repeated statements he had made in the past Diet sessions.
In response to questions about the pre-party event, Prime Minister Abe told the panel that his supporting body handed receipts issued by the hotel to all attendees, that the price and the space for notes were filled in by hotel staffers in advance and that the space for the name of the attendee was left blank.
An opposition legislator pointed out that a 5,000-yen participation fee per attendee is far from enough to hold a party at a high-grade hotel.
The prime minister suggested that the hotel gave a discount because his supporting organization has frequently used the hotel. "I think those who frequently use a business and those who use it for the first time are treated differently," Abe told the session.
When an opposition lawmaker pointed out that many members of the supporting body for Abe were present at the parties, the prime minister said, "Since the criteria for selecting guests were unclear, many local supporters had been invited by the previous administrations."
Abe accused opposition legislators of asking questions about the matter based on what he called "false rumors."
Touching on questions from November 2019 in which Takahiro Kuroiwa of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan pointed to the possibility that high-end sushi served at the pre-party was prepared by prominent sushi restaurant Ginza Kyubey, Abe said, "The rumor was spread through Twitter and also covered by news organizations."
"There are still people who believe that. If you've made a mistake, you should admit you made it," Abe went on to say.
Regarding a graft scandal involving a project to open a so-called "integrated resort" with a casino, Prime Minister Abe said he never received any requests from Tsukasa Akimoto, the former state minister at the Cabinet Office under arrest on suspicion of accepting bribes in connection with the project.
(Japanese original by Jun Aoki, Political News Department)