National / Politics

Abe says his private office has no records of expenses for controversial dinner reception

Reuters

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s approval rating has taken a hit in the past month, a media poll has shown, as accusations grow that his office may have violated political spending laws.

Allegations that the prime minister’s private political office sponsored a party for supporters are the latest in a string of gift-giving scandals that have put politicians’ positions in question across Japan in recent months and eroded public sentiment.

A monthly poll by the daily Yomiuri Shimbun conducted late last week showed an approval rating of 49 percent for Abe’s Cabinet, down 6 points from the results of its October poll, and falling below 50 percent for the first time since February.

The disapproval rating rose to 36 percent from 34 percent last month, with 45 percent of respondents citing “lack of trust in the prime minister” over party-funding allegations.

Last month, two government officials separately resigned over accusations that they had given fruit and vegetables to constituents as gifts. Politicians are strictly forbidden from giving anything to constituents that even hints at being a gift. The rule is so strict that one Cabinet minister quit in 2014 after distributing paper fans during the summer.

On Monday, Abe confirmed that 800 guests had participated in a dinner reception at a five-star hotel in central Tokyo in April attended by him and his wife, adding that attendees each paid a ¥5,000 ($46) admission fee.

“Neither my office nor the party’s supporters organization contributed funding toward admission for guests or myself at the dinner event,” Abe told reporters Monday, noting that his office held no record of the event.

Opposition parties say that the admission price was much lower than that of other receptions held at the Hotel New Otani, which start at ¥11,000 per head according to the hotel’s website. They say that if Abe subsidized the fee, it may violate the Political Offices Election Law and Political Funds Control Law.

“Abe has said that his office sponsored the reception, so it’s mandatory that it keeps records of the event for bookkeeping purposes,” Jun Azumi, deputy secretary-general of the center-left Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters last week.

“The fact that these records do not exist shows that his office had no intention to keep such records — that his office doesn’t acknowledge the event. This is an issue.”