Around 660 lawyers and legal scholars filed a criminal complaint with prosecutors Thursday against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and two of his aides, claiming Abe's office shouldered part of his supporters' expenses for a dinner party in 2018.
They claim Abe and the aides violated the election law by partially funding the party for supporters held at a Tokyo hotel on the eve of a publicly funded annual cherry blossom-viewing party in April 2018. The Tokyo District Public Prosecutor's Office will examine whether to formally receive the complaint.
"It is assumed that the prime minister intended to strengthen his support base by having his supporters enjoy the cherry blossom party and the pre-event without feeling a financial burden," the complaint said.
"A thorough investigation is necessary to break the deplorable stalemate caused by the prime minister's lack of accountability and (the ruling coalition's) obstruction of efforts to shed light on the truth," the lawyers and scholars said in a statement.
The complaint noted around 800 participants, including many voters in Abe's constituency in Yamaguchi Prefecture, paid ¥5,000 ($46) each to attend the dinner party held at Hotel New Otani in Tokyo, even though such events at the hotel normally cost at least ¥11,000 each.
Abe and the two senior officials of his support group conspired to cover around ¥6,000 per participant to make up for the shortfall, which totaled ¥4.8 million for the voters, according to the complaint.
The lawyers and scholars also allege Abe and the aides failed to mention the dinner party in the support group's report on political funding submitted to the government, in violation of the political funds control law.
Abe has denied the allegation in the Diet, saying in response to questions from opposition lawmakers that the hotel set the price for the party.
A group of lawyers in Miyagi Prefecture began a campaign in January to get to the bottom of the matter, gathering support nationwide.
The prime minister has also faced criticism over the cherry blossom-viewing event after it was revealed that hundreds of his supporters had been invited and traveled to Tokyo on a package tour arranged by his local office.
As a result, Abe decided to cancel the cherry blossom event this year. The annual party began in 1952 to honor people such as athletes and celebrities for their accomplishments.
Guests at the cherry blossom event were traditionally selected based on recommendations from politicians. Both the number of guests and the amount spent by the government had been rising under the Abe administration.