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Opposition legislator says handling of Abe's sakura party reminiscent of money laundering

Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan legislator Kiyomi Tsujimoto, left, protests to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on Feb. 3, 2020, over his attitude toward responding to her questions. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- An opposition party legislator has blasted the handling of a controversial taxpayer-funded cherry blossom party hosted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as being reminiscent of "money laundering," and suggested that a dinner function he held the night before circumvented the law.

Kiyomi Tsujimoto of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) brought up the scandal involving the sakura party at a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on Feb. 3.

Tsujimoto pointed out that Abe's personal office had sent application forms to his supporters and solicited them to attend the cherry blossom-viewing party.

"If we were to invite constituents to a cherry blossom party and serve food and drinks, it would constitute a violation of the Public Offices Election Act. However, you say it's all right as long as the Cabinet Office (that arranges the annual party) is involved. Such a practice reminds me of money-laundering," Tsujimoto said.

"It's also the case with matters related to the hotel (where a pre-party dinner event was held). This is the nature of Prime Minister Abe," she said.

The pre-party event, organized by Abe's supporting body, was held at a Hotel New Otani banquet hall in Tokyo on April 12, 2019. Tsujimoto called into question the prime minister's claim that individual participants, and not his supporting body, made contracts with the hotel to attend the party and paid participation fees to the hotel.

Abe said that receipts were handed over to attendees while hotel staff were present, and maintained that participants were the contractors, although his supporting body served as a mediator.

"We don't have to state (the income and costs of the pre-party event) in a political funding report since attendees fully footed the cost and my supporting group never gained or spent any money," Abe said.

He added, "Since I received the same questions, I have no choice but to repeat my earlier replies."

In response to Tsujimoto's demand that Abe guarantee that Diet legislators and local assembly members be allowed to hold similar functions using the same method, the prime minister said, "It's all right if you employ the same method."

Opposition parties and critics have raised suspicions that Abe's supporting group made up for a shortage of money to cover the cost of the pre-party event because the 5,000-yen participation fee per person was too low.

Prime Minister Abe's refusal to release the detailed bill showing specific services provided at the pre-party event and their prices, on the grounds that the hotel has not agreed to do so, has deepened the suspicions.

(Japanese original by Daisuke Nohara, Political News Department, and Shinya Oba, Integrated Digital News Department)

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