• Kyodo

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In a growing scandal, the office of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is suspected of discarding receipts issued by Tokyo hotels that may have showed it covered part of the costs of dinner functions held for supporters, according to sources close to the matter.

Prosecutors, who are investigating the case as a possible violation of the political funds control law, have also found that the amount covered totaled more than ¥9 million ($86,000) over a five-year period through last year, the sources said Wednesday.

The scandal could deal a blow to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who served as chief Cabinet secretary under Abe before replacing him in September.

According to the sources, the two hotels issued receipts to a fund management organization headed by Abe, which is believed to have covered the expenses.

Even though Abe's office may have disposed of the receipts, prosecutors have been examining hotel documentation related to the dinner functions, hosted by an Abe supporters' group on the eve of annual state-funded cherry blossom-viewing parties that the prime minister held in the capital from 2013 to 2019.

After the scandal came to light in November last year, Abe told the Diet that documents such as cost estimates and receipts were not issued by the hotels.

Opposition parties requested that the hotels reissue the documents but were refused on the grounds of "business confidentiality."

Prosecutors have questioned one of Abe's secretaries, who heads the supporters' group and is in charge of accounting at his fund management organization, as well as others.

At least one of them has confirmed that some costs were covered by the office.

Speaking during a Diet session Wednesday, Suga dismissed a request for the government to reopen a probe into the annual cherry blossom-viewing parties, saying it is not appropriate for the government to take such action at the moment as the prosecutors' investigation is underway.

According to the sources, the price tag for the dinner functions at the two hotels exceeded ¥20 million over five years, far higher than the amount collected from ticket sales.

Abe's office is believed to have covered a shortfall of at least ¥1 million every year and up to ¥2.5 million in some years.

Banquet attendees, many of whom were voters in Abe's constituency in Yamaguchi Prefecture, were charged ¥5,000 each, even though such events at the five-star hotels normally cost ¥11,000 or more per head.

About 800 people went to the 2019 function.

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