• Yomiuri Editorial

Abe Bears Heavy Responsibility for Insincere Response to Queries in Diet

Legislation aimed at making political funds more transparent has been trampled upon by a Japanese leader. Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must sincerely reflect on this and fulfill his accountability in this issue.

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has filed a summary indictment against Abe’s state-paid first secretary on charges of violating the Political Funds Control Law for unreported payments in political funds reports over dinners held by Abe’s support group on the eve of cherry blossom viewing parties. The Tokyo Summary Court has issued a summary order for the secretary to pay a fine of ¥1 million.

Abe’s supporters from his political home turf, among others, paid ¥5,000 each to attend the dinner events at hotels in Tokyo from 2013 to 2019. The fees did not fully cover the cost of the events, and the shortfall was reportedly covered by Abe’s side.

The secretary served as the head of Abe’s support group and was effectively in charge of accounting. The secretary was accused of failing to list about ¥30 million in total — both the income that the support group had obtained by collecting the fees from the participants in the dinner events, and also the expenditures that the group had used to pay the hotels, including more than ¥7 million to make up the shortfall for the cost of the events — in the group’s political funds reports for 2016 to 2019.

Abe’s side had asked the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry how to report the cost of the dinner events. Why didn’t the secretary report the cost, knowing that it was necessary to do so?

The secretary was quoted as saying to the investigative authorities that it was customary not to report the cost. In other words, the practice of neglecting the principle of disclosure of political funds has been implemented constantly.

Abe was not indicted due to insufficient evidence. When he was questioned by prosecutors on a voluntary basis, Abe explained that he had become aware of the facts only after he stepped down as prime minister. The secretary reportedly testified that he handled the matter at his own discretion, but Abe cannot escape from his responsibility.

When questioned at the Diet about the dinner events on the eve of cherry blossom viewing parties, Abe repeatedly said, “There was no income and expenditures for the support group,” among other responses. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who was the chief cabinet secretary at that time, went along with Abe’s remarks as well.

It cannot be overlooked that Abe repeatedly made false explanations at the Diet, the highest organ of state power, without having sufficiently confirmed the issue with his secretary and the hotels. It is unavoidable that he is criticized for having made false answers.

At a press conference, Abe apologized, saying: “I’m keenly aware of my moral responsibility. I’ll start from scratch and fulfill my responsibilities as a politician.” He should take seriously the fact that he has undermined public trust in politics.

As prosecutors did not file a formal indictment against the secretary, a trial for him will not be held. The ruling and opposition parties have agreed to question Abe at the steering committees of both houses of the Diet.

Abe said at the press conference that his personal funds were used to make up the shortfall for the cost of the dinner events. He needs to sincerely explain the facts and circumstances behind the case at the Diet.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has been embroiled in a series of money-and-politics scandals, including a vote-buying incident in the previous House of Councillors election and alleged receipt of cash by two former agriculture ministers. It is difficult to regain the public’s trust in politics unless they straighten themselves up.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 25, 2020.