National / Politics

Documents point to discrepancy in Abe's claim about dinner party expenses

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his local office arranged a dinner party for supporters at a Tokyo hotel where they did not stay in 2015, according to documents obtained by Kyodo News that could cast doubt on his claim over the party’s funding.

Abe has faced allegations by opposition parties that his office may have partly shouldered expenses for his supporters attending a dinner party as a ¥5,000 ($46) admission fee was far lower than the normal price, at least ¥11,000, leading to suspicion his office may have made up for the shortfall in violation of the country’s election law.

Denying such allegations, Abe has said the pricing was reasonable because “the majority” of the participants stayed at the same hotel where the dinner party was held and the operator set the price. But the latest revelation could raise doubt over his claim.

Since 2013, it has been customary for the office to hold a dinner party for supporters on the eve of a publicly funded cherry-blossom viewing, the documents show.

According to one of the documents made by the office and distributed to supporters, a dinner party was held at Hotel New Otani in Tokyo in 2015 but the participants stayed at different hotels in the capital.

The office arranged for buses to take the supporters from the hotels to New Otani, the dinner party venue, with one participant saying there were 10 buses in total.

In 2017, the office prepared two hotels — New Otani, the same hotel as the party venue, and a different one. This year, supporters could either ask the office to make necessary arrangements with New Otani or stay at a hotel of their own choice.

The attendance fee was ¥5,000 per person for any of the dinner parties in 2015, 2017 and 2019, the documents show.

Abe’s secretary at the local office in Yamaguchi Prefecture declined to comment. A New Otani representative said the hotel cannot comment on customers.

The recent furor over the annual cherry blossom-viewing event stems from revelations that hundreds of Abe supporters had been invited and traveled to Tokyo on a package tour arranged by his local office.

The allegations prompted Abe to cancel next year’s cherry blossom-viewing event that began in 1952 to honor people such as athletes and celebrities for their accomplishments.

The government plans to carry out a comprehensive review of how the event should be held amid criticism about the tradition of selecting guests based on recommendations from politicians. Both the number of guests and government spending have been on the increase under the Abe administration.