Former Japan PM Abe Avoids Charges Over Cherry Blossom Parties

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered his apologies after one of his aides was summarily indicted over a political funding scandal that has also cast a shadow over the current premier.

Tokyo prosecutors said Thursday Abe won’t be charged over allegations his political funding group illegally subsidized parties for hundreds of voters. The aide was charged with failing to record financial details relating to the use of the funds in conjunction with events surrounding a cherry blossom viewing party, they said.

Former Japan PM Abe Avoids Charges Over Cherry Blossom Parties

“I am offering my deepest apology to the public and members of the Diet from ruling and opposition parties,” Abe told a news conference. “While these financial reports were made without my knowledge, I am keenly aware of my moral responsibility and would like to express my deep regret,” he added.

Abe denied any wrongdoing but said that in retrospect and with the better information he has now, some of his previous statements to parliament over the event were wrong. “My understanding was that everything had been done according to law,” he said.

His statements in parliament have contradicted the findings of the prosecutors as reported in the media at least 118 times, public broadcaster NHK reported Tuesday, citing a parliamentary research bureau.

The scandal over the gatherings held at a Tokyo hotel the night before an annual publicly-funded cherry blossom viewing party has tarnished the image of current Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who served as Abe’s right-hand man throughout his record term of almost eight consecutive years in office.

Suga also apologized Thursday for making false statements while he was chief cabinet secretary, saying he had checked with Abe before answering questions in parliament.

With less than a year to go before the next election must be called, Suga, who defended Abe over the allegations, has seen his support slump due to the scandal and diminishing public confidence over his handling of the pandemic.

Voter support tumbled to 39% in a December survey by the Asahi newspaper, compared with 56% a month earlier.

Abe, who stepped down in September for health reasons, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing over the gatherings. He will face questions over the issue in parliament on Friday, TBS said, while his aide has been fined about $10,000, Kyodo news said.

From the end of 2019, then-premier Abe faced stiff questioning in parliament from opposition members over the blossom parties. Kyodo and other Japanese media outlets reported that Abe submitted to voluntary questioning by prosecutors Monday.

While it is highly unusual for a former Japanese prime minister to be convicted of a crime, Kakuei Tanaka was convicted on bribery charges in a case involving aircraft manufacturer Lockheed in 1983. The former premier received a prison sentence, but died while his case was still on appeal.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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