National / Politics

Allegations over cherry blossom party bloom into fresh document scandal for Abe

JIJI

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been facing mounting criticism again for its handling of documents — this time concerning a state-funded annual cherry blossom-viewing party at the heart of yet another cronyism scandal.

The Abe administration was previously criticized for failing to immediately confirm documents related to a scandal involving the Kake Educational Institution, headed by a close friend of the prime minister. The administration was also roundly condemned for tampering with papers related to a scandal concerning Moritomo Gakuen, a school operator that had ties to the prime minister’s wife, Akie.

The government has told the Diet that the guest list for this year’s party, hosted by the prime minister, was destroyed May 9, the same day that a Japanese Communist Party lawmaker made a disclosure request for related documents.

At a Diet session on Wednesday, a senior Cabinet Office official explained that the timing was a mere coincidence and occurred due to a variety of factors. The official claimed that the papers containing the guest list were supposed to be destroyed soon after the April party, but a large shredder was unavailable at the time.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference Thursday that the Cabinet Office was not aware of the disclosure request at that time, and that the documents were discarded in line with related rules.

According to Suga, the cherry blossom party had about 15,000 guests this year, with some 6,000 of them invited on the recommendation of people with ties to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and around 1,000 others recommended by the prime minister.

Opposition lawmaker Hideya Sugio on Wednesday pointed out that there were members of organized crime groups present at the event. Responding to the question, Suga later said he can’t deny the possibility given that the Cabinet Office was in charge of the guest list and investigative authorities didn’t conduct background check of the guests invited.

Abe has faced allegations that he has used the publicly funded party for his own benefit by inviting scores of supporters.

Amid mounting doubts about the guest selection, the government has decided to cancel next year’s event and review the scheduling process.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Yukio Edano, leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, criticized the government for the scrapping of the guest list.

“The Abe administration is not interested in information disclosure at all,” Edano argued.

He noted that although the electronic data of the guest list may have been deleted, it might be possible to recover the data.