Reinvestigation into Abe scandal should address citizens’ concerns

This is apparently a sign of the people’s deep-rooted distrust regarding the problem of politics and money.

The Tokyo No. 1 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution has decided that parts of the decision by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office’s special investigation squad not to indict Shinzo Abe were unjust regarding dinner parties held by his support group on the eve of cherry blossom-viewing events when Abe was prime minister.

Regarding payments made by Abe’s side to subsidize participation fees for the dinner parties, the inquest committee of randomly selected citizens found the investigation insufficient and called it “unsatisfactory.”

Prosecutors will now reopen an investigation into the case and decide whether to press charges against Abe. The prosecutors must answer questions from the public by thoroughly collecting statements from those involved and physical evidence.

When looking into criminal charges in this case, the prosecutors concluded last December that dinner party participants had not been aware that they had received illegal donations from Abe’s side, although the prosecutors determined that Abe’s side had partially covered expenses.

On the other hand, the inquest committee decided that relying only on statements by some of the participants was insufficient. The committee said the prosecutors should determine whether Abe is criminally responsible by obtaining objective evidence such as emails.

Due to this scandal, a summary indictment was filed against Abe’s former state-funded first secretary on charges of violating the Political Funds Control Law by failing to list payments to cover part of the parties’ costs and other required information in political funds reports. The former secretary was ordered to pay a fine of ¥1 million.

Abe was not indicted due to insufficient evidence, however, prompting civic and other groups to seek inquests.

Following the inquest committee’s decision, Abe said, “I want to wait and see how the authorities will handle” the situation. It is essential for Abe to cooperate fully with the reinvestigation.

Abe initially denied the allegations, making remarks in the Diet such as that his office was not involved in the matter and did not subsidize the dinner parties. He is said to have given statements that were not true in the Diet on a total of 118 occasions between November 2019 and March 2020. Abe apologized last December after admitting these statements had been wrong.

The inquest committee added that Abe “should be aware of his role as a representative of the people, should conduct clean and honest political activities, and should fulfill his accountability when doubts arise.” Abe’s lack of sincerity in responding to questions in the Diet surely invited public suspicion.

Many people connected to Abe’s support group were invited to the cherry blossom-viewing events hosted by the prime minister, drawing criticism that Abe mixed public and private matters. It is also important for Abe to fully explain this matter.

In recent years, there has been a series of scandals involving politics and money, sometimes leading Committees for the Inquest of Prosecution to raise objections to prosecutors’ lenient decisions on the punishments of politicians. Politicians should be aware that the people are keeping a close eye on them and must straighten up.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 1, 2021.