The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is looking to call former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to appear in the Diet and address allegations that his camp illegally used political funds to pay for dinner parties, sources with knowledge of the matter said Thursday.
The move is aimed at avoiding a public outcry over the scandal that could erode support for Abe's successor, Yoshihide Suga, the sources said. Abe, who stepped down in September but remains an LDP lawmaker, could make an appearance before the end of the year, they said.
Opposition parties have demanded that Abe answer allegations that a group that manages his political funds paid more than ¥9 million between 2015 and 2019 to cover part of the cost of dinner parties held at luxury hotels and attended by voters from his constituency in Yamaguchi Prefecture.
Abe said Friday he is willing to appear at the Diet. "I will deal with (any questions) sincerely after prosecutors finish their investigation," he told reporters.
Tokyo prosecutors are investigating the case and one of his aides has reportedly admitted to not keeping legally required records of income and expenditures related to the dinner parties, which were held on the eve of the government's annual cherry blossom-viewing parties.
Abe, who while in office had repeatedly denied any impropriety, is expected to apologize for making what turned out to be false statements to the Diet, according to the sources.
The LDP is considering calling the former prime minister to an out-of-session Diet meeting instead of waiting for the start of the regular session on Jan. 18, the sources said, in order to avoid a drawn-out ordeal that could hurt the party in the next House of Representatives election.
A date is expected to be set after deliberation with the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition forces.
Speaking to journalists Friday, Jun Azumi, the CDP's Diet affairs chief, said Abe had told "lies totally different from the facts" and should be summoned by the end of the year.
A Kyodo News poll conducted this month showed that even among LDP supporters 53.1% of respondents thought Abe should be made to give an explanation in the Diet compared with 43.1% who saw it as unnecessary.
Meanwhile, the Suga administration has seen its approval ratings plummet due to dissatisfaction with its response to the coronavirus pandemic, with a separate graft scandal involving two former farm ministers also giving cause for concern.
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