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Editorial: Ex-Japan PM Abe must be thoroughly investigated in new dinner spending probe

The Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution has deemed it inappropriate not to indict former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in connection with spending over functions held the night before annual sakura-viewing parties.

    The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office's special investigation unit ended its investigation after summarily indicting Abe's secretary for not including spending on the functions in political funding reports. The unit decided there was no evidence to corroborate Abe's involvement.

    But the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, composed of ordinary citizens chosen via a lottery system, has asserted that the investigation was not exhaustive. Suspicions have not been dispelled. The special investigation unit must thoroughly look into the matter, and reveal the truth.

    Functions held the night before the cherry blossom-viewing parties were hosted by a group of Abe's supporters annually until 2019. At the events, supporters who had been invited to the sakura viewing parties would gather for dinner at a high-end hotel.

    In the four years until 2019, Abe's side covered some 7 million yen (about $63,800) in expenses not paid for by participants. It is possible that this contravened rules in the Public Offices Election Act concerning donations to voters by those in public office. But the investigation unit judged that the participants had no recognition that they were receiving donations.

    The inquest committee pointed out that hearing details of the case from only some participants did not provide sufficient grounds for prosecutors to draw a conclusion. It added that the question of whether Abe was involved should be answered after obtaining emails and other materials from people connected to the case.

    While the special investigation unit did interview the former prime minister, his offices were not searched, nor was there any other compulsory investigation. In any fresh investigation, the unit will have to respond to the issues highlighted by the inquest committee.

    Abe's accountability is also being questioned again.

    The former prime minister maintains that the funds used to make up for shortfalls do not constitute donations as they covered venue expenses and other costs. However, he has not complied with requests from opposition parties to release detailed hotel bills.

    Questions also remain about the source of the funds themselves. Abe's explanation that his secretary decided to pay the money from funds kept at his office for private payments is unnatural.

    Meanwhile, the reason the funds were not listed in political funding reports also remains unknown.

    While the suspicions have yet to be cleared, Abe emphasized in the National Diet at the end of 2020, "I have fulfilled my accountability." He does not appear to be aware of the seriousness of fallacious statements he repeatedly gave up to that point.

    The committee for the inquest said in addendum, "As ordinary members of the public, it is hard to accept that an individual who formerly held the office of prime minister would say that their secretary did it, and take a stance of not being aware of what happened." Abe should seriously accept what has been said.

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