Former prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, on Friday corrected statements ha had made in parliament related to a political funding scandal that has also cast some doubts over the current premier. Abe apologized for it to the public after prosecutors declined to indict him for illegal payments his office had made.
From 2019, Abe had made repeated false denials that his political funding group had subsidized cherry blossom viewing parties for his supporters, in possible violation of the strict political funding laws in Japan.
Abe admitted that he felt deeply responsible for making previous denials, and said he had known nothing about the payments and pledged to work to regain public trust.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office cited lack of evidence in deciding not to press charges against Abe. But it formally indicted a longtime aide who allegedly failed to report fees and payments for the receptions from 2016 to 2019.
“Even though the accounting procedures happened without my knowledge, I feel morally responsible for what happened,” Abe told a Diet committee. “I reflect on this deeply and apologize from my heart to the citizens and to all lawmakers.”
Abe also filed corrected political funding reports for the last three years.
Abe is the longest-serving prime minister of Japan, having spent nearly eight years as the country’s leader before he resigned on health grounds. His grandfather and great-uncle also served as premiers.
This scandal is also threatening to damage the reputation of Abe’s successor, Yoshihide Suga, who was the former’s right-hand man throughout his term.
When he took office, Suga immediately scrapped the annual cherry blossom viewing party. However, his government has seen its public support plunge due to delayed coronavirus measures and a spate of scandals involving Abe’s former ministers.
Abe did not respond to questions from opposition MPs about whether he would take political responsibility for the scandal by resigning as an MP. He struggled to explain why he was able to file detailed updated funding reports even though he says his office does not have the underlying receipts for the parties.
The scandal started after opposition lawmakers raised question about a 2018 dinner party for which Abe’s guests paid a 5,000 yen ($48) fee. They have said that was low for a party at an upscale Tokyo hotel and alleged Abe’s office covered the difference.
Japanese law prohibits any politician from giving gifts to constituents