Ex-prime Minister Abe Not Indicted over Dinners Connected to Cherry Blossom-Viewing Parties

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answers questions about dinners held on the eve of cherry blossom-viewing parties, at a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on Feb. 17.

Prosecutors decided Thursday not to indict former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe due to insufficient evidence over alleged political funding violations related to dinners held on the eve of cherry blossom-viewing parties.

However, a summary indictment was issued against his state-paid first secretary, who heads a political support group for Abe, over irregularities on funds reports.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office’s special investigation squad filed the summary indictment regarding Hiroyuki Haikawa, 61, at the Tokyo Summary Court, over a suspected violation of the Political Funds Control Law related to the dinners hosted by Abe.

Two others, including the treasurer of a support group for Abe based in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, were not charged due to insufficient evidence.

The support group held the dinners at hotels in Tokyo, on the evening before the annual cherry blossom-viewing parties from 2013 to last year. Participants including Abe’s supporters from his political home turf paid ¥5,000 each to attend the dinner event.

According to a statement by the investigation squad and other sources, Haikawa doubled as the head of the support group and its treasurer until December 2016. Even after serving only in a representative post, he continued to be effectively in charge of the group’s accounting.

Haikawa allegedly conspired with an administrative official of the group and failed to report payments totaling about ¥30.22 million in the group’s political funds reports for 2016 to 2019, despite knowing that the group had paid the hotels the money collected from the participants and itself made up the shortfall for the cost of the events.

The statute of limitations for prosecuting a failure to report political funds is five years. However, the funds report for 2015 that the group submitted to the Yamaguchi prefectural election committee was discarded, as the storage period for original funds reports had passed. The investigation squad therefore limited the scope of the indictment to the four years up to last year.

According to sources, Haikawa told the prosecutors that the income and expenditures related to the dinner events should have been listed in the support group’s funds reports, but they were not listed as is customary.

During a Diet session when he was prime minister, Abe said about the dinners: “There was no income or expenditures for the support group at all. It is not true that the group supplemented [the shortfall in the expenses].”

However, in voluntary questioning on Monday, Abe told the prosecutors that he had been informed recently about the group’s making up for the shortfall and other matters, but denied any involvement in the irregularities on funds reports.

Civic and other groups have filed complaints against Abe and Haikawa for allegedly violating the law in connection with the cherry blossom-viewing parties and preceding dinners. They have also filed complaints against the treasurer of the support group and the treasurer of Abe’s Shinwakai fund management group, based in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

However, the investigation squad stopped short of charging Abe and the two others due to insufficient evidence. An indictment for the administrative official of the support group was suspended.

Abe and Haikawa were also accused of an alleged violation of the Public Offices Election Law, but the investigation squad decided not to charge them about this matter due to insufficient evidence.

The cherry blossom viewing party is an event hosted by the prime minister. People in various fields, including politics, business, culture and sports, are invited as guests. It is usually held in April at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, but was canceled this year amid criticism that its scale had expanded beyond the national budget under the Abe administration, which was launched in late 2012.