Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made frequent public appearances since he announced his resignation at the end of August this year. Earlier this month, he participated in political activities for 3 consecutive days in his hometown of Yamaguchi Prefecture. He was full of vigor during his speech and publicly stated that his physical condition was “rapidly improving.”
Just as the Japanese media speculated that Abe might run for the prime minister again, the “cherry blossom viewing party” scandal added new information. The topic “Arrest Abe” appeared on the Twitter hot search list on November 23, a new wave of Japanese politics. come behind.
Since 2013, the Abe Support Club has held a large-scale dinner called “Eve Festival” every year on the eve of the “Sakura Viewing” to entertain Abe supporters. Although each participant pays the dinner fee by himself, there is still a huge gap that needs to be filled. According to a report by the Japan Broadcasting Association (NHK) on the 26th, the prosecutors and Japanese media found that Abe was suspected of providing subsidies to supporters in disguise and destroying relevant evidence.
Abe is once again caught in the quagmire of scandals. His once “big butler” and current Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is also “under great pressure”. As Abe’s successor, how to deal with the “negative legacy” has become a major test.
The whole story of “Eve Offerings and Pasting Money Gate”
In November last year, Japanese media exposed the scandal of the “Sakura Viewing Party”, and Abe was suspected of inviting a large number of “relationships” to participate in the annual “Yae Sakura Viewing Party” sponsored by the government. The opposition parties pursued the incident and demanded accountability for private use of public funds, which once led to a rapid decline in Abe’s approval rating. Kyodo News reported on November 23 last year that on the day when opposition members asked the cabinet to provide the guest list for the “cherry blossom viewing party,” the Abe cabinet used a shredder to destroy relevant materials.
One year later, Abe has unloaded the burden of the prime minister, but the cherry blossom viewing scandal has staged a “sequel.”
From 2013 to 2019, the political group “Shinzo Abe Support Club” will hold a dinner called “Eve Festival” on the eve of the cherry blossom viewing event, and the venue is generally set in a super-class hotel in Tokyo. The 2019 Eve Festival was held at the “Tsuru” of the New Otani Hotel in Tokyo. About 800 Abe supporters participated, each paying 5,000 yen (about 316 yuan).
According to the “Mainichi Shimbun” report, the report material shows that on the day of the 2019 New Year’s Eve Festival, the food and beverage expenses per person are at least 11,000 yen. Moreover, the charter fee for “Crane” alone is as high as 9 million yen. In other words, the funds handed in by the participants of the dinner are obviously lower than the cost of hosting. Who will fill in the difference?
Regarding this issue, the Japanese opposition parties discussed with the Cabinet at the end of last year. They generally believed that Abe had paid for the difference. However, Abe denied it, and insisted in last year’s Congressional defense that his support club and office did not have any revenue or expenditure for the dinner and that the expenses were voluntarily borne by the participants.
The investigation of the case fell through with Abe’s departure. Until this month, this gradually forgotten scandal was torn open again. On November 23, the Special Investigation Department of the Tokyo District Prosecutor’s Office summoned Shinzo Abe’s chief secretary and other people around him, representatives of the Abe Support Association and the financial officer of his fund management group “Shinwakai”, admitted to subsidizing the dinner expenses, and did not transfer the money. Recorded in the political funds income and expenditure report, but they claimed that Abe did not know.
“The Asahi Shimbun” learned about the payment status from many hotels that hosted the banquet, and calculated from the detailed list that from 2015 to 2019, the total payment for the five-year banquet exceeded 20 million yen, and Abe’s subsidy was about 9.16 million yen.
“We were asked to make an explanation due to criminal charges. We are willing to assist in the investigation and sincerely respond to the matter. We are currently inconvenient to comment on specific details.” Abe firm issued the above statement on November 23 in response.
The ANA Intercontinental Hotel in Tokyo, which hosted the 2013 “Eve Festival”, once issued a receipt to Abe with the name “Shinwa Club” in the amount of 829,394 yen. This became the key evidence for investigating supporters of Abe’s subsidized money. . However, the Jiji News Agency learned from relevant people on the 25th that Abe may have destroyed this receipt.
Regarding the specific source of subsidy funds, it is still under investigation. Earlier, opposition parties pointed out that Abe may have used public funds to entertain his supporters by taking advantage of the cherry blossom viewing party. During Abe’s administration, the size and budget of the cherry blossom viewing parties increased significantly. However, Abe denied all allegations.
Abe’s next step
Scandals related to the “Cherry Blossom Club” are not new, and related investigations have been delayed. When Abe left office for three months, he was suddenly investigated. The timing is intriguing.
Former Tokyo District Attorney’s Office of Special Search Prosecutor Maeda Hirohiko wrote an article that the Japanese Constitution stipulates that during the prime minister’s office, the Minister of State cannot be prosecuted without the permission of the prime minister. The “Secretary of State” referred to in the clause is cabinet ministers including the prime minister. Therefore, during Abe’s tenure, the prosecution will have difficulty acting, and a full investigation will not be launched until he resigns.
In addition to the legitimacy of the legal level, the investigation was also accused of contingent political factors. According to the Japanese media “AERA dot.”, Japanese political reporter Kakutani Kojima believes that Yoshihide Suga has recently been criticized for the appointment of Japanese academic conferences and the travel subsidy program “go to travel”. At the same time, Abe has come out again. The rumors spread. Yoshihide Suga may have signaled a little, hoping to remove the criticism from him. Moreover, media such as NHK have a large amount of information about the case, which shows that the news is likely to come from near the prime minister’s residence.
Regarding the statement that Yoshihide Suga directed an investigation, the person involved in the “Sakura Viewing Society” case told the Japanese media J-CAST News that rumors of conspiracy theories are spreading. Although everyone does not know the truth, the issue of responsibility should not be pushed to Prime Minister Suga. He will not easily ignore the prestige of the prosecutor.
The current survey results look bad for Abe. “Nihon Keizai Shimbun” consulted with legal experts and pointed out that if it is confirmed that Abe’s subsidies to banquet voters in electoral districts, it would violate the “Public Election Law” and the maximum penalty is 1 year in prison. In addition, the Abe Support Association failed to record the dinner-related expenses and income in the political fund revenue and expenditure report, which violated the “Political Funds Regulation Act” and the maximum sentence is 5 years in prison.
“The Asahi Shimbun” reported that the legal threshold for accusing Abe of violating the “Public Election Law” is relatively high and difficult. At present, people close to Abe have admitted that the expenditure has not been recorded in the income and expenditure report, and the prosecutor may proceed with the investigation on the suspected violation of the Political Funds Regulation Act. But if Abe is not aware of the fact that the money is not included in the report, it will be difficult to hold him personally responsible.
On social media, calls for a thorough investigation of Abe have been raised, and many netizens have posted the label “Arrest Abe.” Ichiro Ozawa, a member of the opposition Kadet Party of Japan, tweeted on the 23rd that Abe lied in the Diet. Such behavior was ignored and criticized by investigative agencies, which is very abnormal. “If the prime minister is allowed to do everything, it is not a country under the rule of law. The law and justice of this country are being tested.”
Yoshihide Suga is hard to fight
At the House Budget Committee on November 25, the secretary handed notes to Yoshihide Suga more than once, because the “firepower” of the opposition members was unanimously directed at the prime minister.
According to the “Mainichi Shimbun” report on the 26th, regarding Abe’s subsidies for the “Eve Ceremony” dinner, opposition lawmakers criticized in the Budget Committee that what Abe had said in the parliamentary defense was a lie and that “parliamentary deliberation was fooled.” The leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, Yoshio Edano, also held accountable Yoshihide Suga, because Yoshihide Suga helped Abe to explain in last year’s parliamentary defense. He responded to this: “If it doesn’t match the facts, I am also responsible.”
In addition, the opposition parties also asked Abe to go to the parliament to accept questions and give the people an explanation. In this regard, Yoshihide Suga repeatedly stated: “This is a matter related to the search and will not be answered.” People close to Yoshihide Suga suggested that no matter what they are asked, they should answer “searching.”
On the same day that Yoshihide Suga was busy dealing with the doubts of the opposition parties, Abe held a meeting of the Liberal Democratic Party parliamentary union. He did not mention anything about dinner subsidies, but praised “Abenomics” in his speech.
Kyodo News commented on the 26th that Yoshihide Suga was just blindly defensive against the offensive of the opposition party. He used the search of the Special Search Department of the Tokyo District Prosecutor’s Office as a shield and kept evading in his defense. The Jiji News Agency stated that Yoshihide Suga had a negative attitude towards the thorough investigation of the case and showed a gesture of covering up the “negative legacy” of the previous government.
It is foreseeable that Abe’s “cherry blossom viewing party” will continue to ferment. And Yoshihide Suga made the decision at the beginning of taking office in September that after 2021, the “cherry blossom viewing party” hosted by the prime minister every spring will be discontinued.