Opposition lawmakers claim there have been contradictions in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s answers to parliamentary questions about a controversial dinner event, related to a publicly funded cherry blossom-viewing party that has become the focus of a political scandal.
Many opposition parties decided to boycott a meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Tuesday, alleging that Abe had lied in his account of the dinner event.
The prime minister “has repeated untruthful answers many times in the Diet,” argued Kiyomi Tsujimoto, acting secretary-general of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, at a meeting of the Lower House committee the previous day.
The dinner event was organized in 2013, 2014 and 2016 for Abe’s supporters by one of his offices. They were held at a high-end Tokyo hotel on the eve of the annual cherry blossom party hosted by the prime minister, which has been attended in recent years by many supporters of Abe, including celebrities and other guests.
Abe has said that fees for the dinner event were paid by participants directly to the hotel, ANA InterContinental Tokyo, and that his personal office only mediated them.
The Abe office did not receive a detailed statement for the event, and it only handed hotel-issued receipts to the participants while leaving the payer’s name blank on the receipts, according to the prime minister.
At the Lower House committee meeting Monday morning, Tsujimoto presented the hotel’s answers to opposition questions about the dinner event.
According to the lawmaker, the hotel said that when such events are held in the hotel it issues quotations and statements to the organizers and receives payments from them, adding that it does not issue blank receipts.
On the basis of the hotel’s explanations, the CDP lawmaker said a violation of the political funds control law was “strongly suspected” in relation to the dinner event.
Abe did not immediately respond to the claim by Tsujimoto, saying that he would check with the hotel about the matter.
After the committee meeting was reopened in the afternoon, Abe said, in response to a question from another opposition lawmaker, Junya Ogawa, that the hotel had said its answers to the opposition questions were only “general explanations.”
Abe quoted the hotel as saying that it did not explain about specific cases in order not to expose business secrets. He then reiterated his earlier justifications that his personal office had received no statement for the dinner event and that the participants directly paid the event fees to the hotel.
Unconvinced by his answer, Ogawa demanded Abe present in written form what he cited as the hotel’s explanations.
An irritated Abe said, “If you say I lied, you should prove it.”
Criticizing the remark by Abe as “too insincere,” the opposition walked out of the meeting room. The committee meeting was then suspended for some 30 minutes.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, CDP parliamentary affairs chief Jun Azumi referred to a newspaper report that the hotel had partly contradicted Abe’s characterization of the explanation previously given by the hotel.
“The claim that the hotel is unable to answer (questions about the dinner event) because of business confidentiality is a lie,” Azumi said.
CDP leader Yukio Edano wrote on Twitter that the prime minister had not responded to allegations of breaches of the public offices election law and the political funds control law in relation to the dinner event.
“Unless he comes up with a convincing answer, his Cabinet should resign en masse,” Edano said.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.