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Japan ex-PM Abe questioned by prosecutors on party funding

Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe gestures while speaking during a New Years gathering for business leaders in Tokyo on Jan 7, 2020. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

TOKYO, Dec 22, 2020, Bloomberg. Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was questioned by prosecutors looking into allegations that political funds were improperly used to subsidise parties for voters, Kyodo News reported, in a case casting a shadow over the current premier, The Straits Times reported.

Mr Abe submitted to voluntary questioning by prosecutors Monday, Kyodo cited sources close to the matter as saying. The Kyodo report added that prosecutors are seeking to build a case against AMr be’s state-paid secretary for allegedly not recording income and expenditures related to the dinner functions. National public broadcaster NHK also had a similar report.

Prosecutors have said they wouldn’t comment on individual cases. But the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper and other media have said the investigation centred on whether the aide violated campaign financing laws by using the funds to subsidise dinner parties for supporters, held every year at a hotel the night before a publicly funded cherry-blossom party.

Mr Abe, who stepped down in September for health reasons, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing over the gatherings. But his statements in Parliament have contradicted the findings of the prosecutors as reported in the media at least 118 times, public broadcaster NHK reported on Tuesday (Dec 22), citing a parliamentary research bureau.

Towards the end of 2019, Mr Abe faced stiff questioning in Parliament from opposition members over the blossom parties.

Current Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who served as Mr Abe’s right-hand man during his record stint as premier, has defended him over the scandal. Support for Mr Suga slumped 17 percentage points to 39 per cent in a poll published by the Asahi newspaper on Sunday, amid the investigation and renewed concerns over his handling of the coronavirus. The fallout could affect the timing of the next election, with the lower house term set to end Oct 21.

“The mere fact of an Abe scandal being back in the news and a target of prosecutors’ scrutiny is enough to make life difficult for a prime minister who is carrying on the work of the Abe administration,” said Mr Tobias Harris, a Japan analyst at consultancy Teneo, and author of a biography of Mr Abe.

While it is highly unusual for a former Japanese prime minister to be convicted of a crime, Kakuei Tanaka was convicted on bribery charges in the Lockheed case in 1983. The former premier was sentenced to prison, but died while his case was still on appeal.

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