Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe answers questions from reporters at the entrance of the prime minister’s office on Nov. 18. (Takeshi Iwashita)

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said financial records do not exist for a dinner party held at an upscale Tokyo hotel for hundreds of his supporters, fueling opposition claims that he is hiding illicit donations.

Opposition parties are demanding a detailed statement about the party given at Hotel New Otani in April 2018. They said the attendance fee of 5,000 yen ($46.30) per person was way too low for such a lavish event, and that the low cost suggests either unreported political donations or possible gifts to his voters.

Abe has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing concerning the party.

“The fee for the dinner was not paid to my office nor my supporters’ organization, so no receipts were issued by them,” Abe told reporters on the morning of Nov. 18.

It was the third time since Nov. 15 for Abe to take time to answer questions from reporters waiting at the entrance of the prime minister’s office.

Normally, he simply gives terse replies to reporters firing questions at him.

The dinner party was part of a sightseeing tour to Tokyo centering on a tax-funded, annual cherry blossom viewing party hosted by the prime minister at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.

The cherry viewing party is supposed to be held to honor those who achieve remarkable accomplishments in various fields. But under Abe, the parties have grown in cost and size, with many supporters of the prime minister and other Cabinet members in attendance.

Criticism led to the cancellation of next year’s cherry blossom viewing party.

However, questions remain over the dinner parties held in 2018 and 2019 on the night before the sakura parties.

Abe’s office sent written announcements about the event to voters in his home constituency in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

About 800 people attended the 2018 party at the Hotel New Otani, each paying 5,000 yen ($46.3) for the buffet-style dinner.

A receipt issued under the name of the hotel obtained by The Asahi Shimbun showed no entry in the space for “recipient.” The words “dinner charge” were scrawled in the space for notes.

According to Hotel New Otani’s website, the fee for a buffet-style dinner at the hotel starts at 11,000 yen per person.

Abe has explained that his staff collected the fees for the hotel from attendees at the entrance of the banquet hall. He also said attendees were handed receipts under the name of the hotel on the spot.

He insisted that as a result, no money from the party was received or given by his office or his supporters’ organization.

However, he said he could not produce a detailed account showing the total cost of the party.

“I was told that there is no such statement when I asked my office,” Abe said on Nov. 18.

A travel agency that organized the tour told The Asahi Shimbun that it was “not involved” in organizing the dinner party or funding the cost.

Hiroshi Kamiwaki, a professor of the Constitution at Kobe Gakuin University, echoed opposition parties’ suspicions about the decision not to include costs related to such a party in political funding reports.

“Since his office needed to book the venue for a dinner party, it is problematic that there were no entries with respect to the expenses for the parties in the past political funding reports,” he said.

Kamiwaki also cited possible violations of the Political Fund Control Law and the Public Offices Election Law if the 5,000-yen fee per person was not enough to cover the actual cost of the dinner party.

“The hotel management might have made illicit donations (to Abe) by financing the difference, or Abe’s office, together with the hotel, might have made donations to voters,” Kamiwaki said.

A task force formed by the opposite bloc handed Abe’s office an open letter on Nov. 15 demanding details about the dinner party.

But the office did not reply by the deadline of 2 p.m. on Nov. 18, saying Abe has already provided an explanation to reporters.

Kazunori Yamanoi, a Lower House lawmaker in the opposition bloc, blasted Abe’s insistence that a detailed statement does not exist concerning the party.

“It is impossible that a statement does not exist for a party attended by 800 people,” he said at a meeting of opposition parties on Nov. 18.

Calling the fee of 5,000 yen “too cheap,” opposition parties submitted an additional letter to Abe’s office demanding records of its negotiations with the hotel about the party.

(This article was written by Naoki Kikuchi and Noboru Inoue.)