• Kyodo, staff report

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Prosecutors said Thursday they have decided not to indict former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over allegations his camp illegally paid millions of yen for dinner receptions held for supporters, ending their investigation into a scandal that came to light last year.

They instead issued a summary indictment to one of Abe’s state-paid secretaries, Hiroyuki Haikawa, 61, seeking a fine for his alleged failure to keep some financial records related to the dinner functions as required by law.

“Although those expense accounts were handled without my knowledge, I’m painfully aware of collective responsibility,” Abe told a news conference Thursday evening. “I’m going to profoundly reflect on it and I apologize to the public from the bottom of my heart.”

Since the scandal came to light in November last year, the former prime minister has repeatedly denied in the Diet the allegation that a group managing his political funds partially covered the costs of the receptions.

The prosecutors said they decided not to indict Abe because there was no evidence he knew of the improper reporting.

When questioned on a voluntary basis on Monday, Abe explained he was not aware that his side had shouldered the costs and their records had not been properly reported, according to sources close to the matter.

The prosecutors said they adopted a summary indictment for Haikawa in light of the amount of income and expenditures not properly reported and past similar cases. A summary indictment is a simplified proceeding that skips court examination and applies to less serious offenses. It can result in fines of ¥1 million or less.

According to the indictment, Haikawa failed to record the income and expenditures for the dinner events between 2016 and 2019, which amounted to about ¥3.02 million. He has admitted to not keeping legally required records, the sources said.

On Thursday, Abe conveyed his intention to offer explanations and correct his past parliamentary statements on the matter to heads of both chambers of the Diet, said Hiroshi Moriyama, Diet affairs chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Abe told the news conference that he will correct his past statements when he offers explanations in the Diet on Friday. “I must also apologize in the Diet,” he said, adding that he will do all he can to win back people’s trust.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe waves to participants at a government-sponsored cherry blossom-viewing event in Tokyo in April 2019. | KYODO
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe waves to participants at a government-sponsored cherry blossom-viewing event in Tokyo in April 2019. | KYODO

The scandal involving Abe, who became Japan’s longest-serving prime minister before stepping down in September due to health reasons, has dealt a blow to his successor Yoshihide Suga.

Suga served as chief Cabinet secretary under Abe and defended him during news conferences and in Diet sessions.

Haikawa heads the group of Abe supporters that hosted the receptions at two luxury hotels in Tokyo between 2013 and 2019 on the eve of the government-sponsored annual cherry blossom-viewing parties, according to investigative sources.

The events cost ¥23 million ($222,000) over a five-year period through last year, much higher than the funds collected from attendees, many of whom were voters in Abe’s constituency in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

The attendees paid only ¥5,000 each even though such dinners at the five-star hotels normally cost more than twice that price per head, according to the sources.

To make up for the shortfalls, Abe’s side is believed to have paid a total of ¥9 million over the five-year period. But the supporters’ group and Abe’s fund management body did not record the income and expenditures in their political fund reports, in violation of the political funds control law.

In May, lawyers and scholars filed a criminal complaint against Abe, the state-paid secretary and Abe’s fund manager, claiming they broke the law by failing to report the payment of the difference between the total costs of each party and the contributions paid by attendees.

The complaint also alleged that Abe and the two others violated the election law by contributing to covering the cost of the gathering, saying it is tantamount to buying votes. The prosecutors decided not to indict them on that complaint.

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