TOKYO -- A former company executive who invested in a guesthouse launched at the proposal of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife Akie was invited to a tax-funded cherry blossom-viewing party hosted by the prime minister in 2016, opposition parties pointed out in the Diet.
According to an attorney representing Akihito Awaji, former representative director of 48Holdings Inc., the ex-official invested some of the funds needed to establish and operate "Uzuhouse," a guesthouse located in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in western Japan, which is Prime Minister Abe's home turf. 48Holdings Inc., based in the Hokkaido capital of Sapporo, was slapped with administrative punishment by the Consumer Affairs Agency over a pyramid scheme in 2017.
At a House of Councillors Budget Committee session on March 4, opposition parties grilled Prime Minister Abe over the revelation, pointing out that he and his wife had posed for photos together with Awaji during a cherry blossom-viewing party held in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward in 2016 and at a dinner party held in the capital the night before.
"Didn't you invite him because he provided those funds?" questioned an opposition lawmaker. In response, Prime Minister Abe denied any connection with Awaji, saying, "I'm not acquainted with the former executive."
According to the March 1 edition of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP)'s newspaper "Shimbun Akahata" and other information, an online crowdfunding drive soliciting donations of 100,000 yen a portion was launched in 2016 in a bid to raise funds to open and run the guesthouse in Shimonoseki. Awaji's attorney told the Mainichi Shimbun on March 4, "It's true that he invested funds. But I'm not aware of the amount or other details."
In August 2016, Akie Abe posted on her Facebook account a group photo showing herself and Prime Minister Abe with others including a man believed to be Awaji, which was taken during a party in Shimonoseki to celebrate the launch of Uzuhouse. "We viewed fireworks at Uzuhouse together with those who supported us," Akie's comment in the post reads.
Tomoko Tamura, a JCP lawmaker, attacked Prime Minister Abe during the upper house budget panel session on March 4, saying, "Mr. Awaji was invited to the party in return for providing funds, right? Didn't the photo in which he is pictured alongside the prime minister lead to more damage (from the pyramid scheme)?"
In response, Abe said, "I myself am not acquainted with him at all." He continued, "Isn't crowdfunding a scheme where anyone can participate in online?"
According to the Consumer Affairs Agency, 48Holdings Inc. was given a partial business suspension order for three months in October 2017 for violating the Act on Specified Commercial Transactions and other charges. The firm was accused of amassing approximately 19.2 billion yen between September 2016 and June 2017 by having customers believe that cryptocurrencies were certain to rise in value, among other tactics. The firm had contracts with some 35,000 customers as of the end of July 2017.
(Japanese original by Shinya Oba, Integrated Digital News Center, and Daisuke Oka, Special Reports Department)