Cherry Blossom Scandal: Shinzo Abe Questioned By Prosecutors Over Spring Dinner Funding

Prosecutors in Japan have questioned former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe over allegations that his political group illegally covered part of the cost of dinner reception for supporters. According to The Guardian, Abe, who resigned back in August, volunteered for questioning as prosecutors sought to build a case against his secretary for allegedly not recording incomes and expenditures related to annual cherry blossom viewing parties in Tokyo between 2015 and last year. Now, the funding scandal could harm the country’s current PM, Yoshihide Suga, who served as chief Cabinet secretary under Abe and defended the then-leader over the scandal during news conferences.

The prosecutors said that the total revenues and cost not declared in political fund reports may exceed ¥40 million. The failure to list the expenditure in annual funds is a possible violation of political funding laws, however, Abe is likely to have denied his involvement in not recording funds related to the dinner functions. According to reports, the constituents, who travelled to Tokyo from Abe’s constituency in Yamaguchi prefecture, paid just ¥5,000 each to have dinner at expensive hotels on the eve of the cherry blossom events.

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Hotel receipts had shown that the full cost of the banquet-style meals at two luxury hotels came to a total of ¥23m over five years. Further, Abe’s secretary has confirmed to prosecutors that the support group had made up the shortfalls. The cherry blossom viewing party is hosted by PM almost every year since 1952 and it is a springtime event originally meant to honour sportspeople, celebrities and other citizens who have excelled in their fields.

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Scandal could weaken PM Suga

Now, the scandal risks tarnishing Abe’s legacy and could even weaken Suga, who is his preferred successor when he stepped down. The pressure is building on the former PM to give unsworn testimony before a parliamentary budget committee, possibly before the end of the year. As per reports, opposition MPs have also demanded Abe to explain where the money for the dinner parties came from and why he had previously denied that payments were made to help cover the costs.

The current leader, on the other hand, has already seen his approval ratings tumble over his response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He further also drew fire for joining year-end social gatherings despite asking Japanese citizens to avoid such parties amid a surgeon coronavirus cases. Earlier this week, Suga also said that he saw no need to declare a state of emergency in an attempt to contain the latest outbreak, despite warning that hospitals are struggling with the influx of COVID-19 patients.

(Image: AP)

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By Staff Writer