Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe responds to questions from opposition lawmakers in the Lower House Budget Committee on Jan. 27. (Takeshi Iwashita)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dismissed opposition calls for an investigation into suspicions that overseas casino operators had sought to influence key officials involved in a program to open integrated resorts in Japan that will feature gambling.

Opposition lawmakers hammered away at Abe on this and other issues during a Lower House Budget Committee session Jan. 27 due to a string of scandals involving former officials of his Cabinet and members of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Abe, true to form, remained mostly evasive in his answers.

One issue taken up during questioning concerned the arrest in December of a former senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office who was in charge of promoting the program to open integrated resorts in Japan.

Tsukasa Akimoto was arrested on suspicion of receiving millions of yen in bribes from a Chinese company that wanted a slice of the action.

Opposition lawmaker Kenji Eda asked Abe to order an investigation into whether casino operators had approached local governments that are weighing the merits of hosting an integrated resort.

But Abe responded, “We cannot begin an investigation when the process for selecting casino operators has not even begun.”

Eda also raised a meeting Abe had in 2017 with U.S. President Donald Trump and asked whether Trump lobbied for U.S. casino operators to be allowed to open up business in Japan.

Abe admitted that a number of heads of companies operating casinos in the United States were part of a breakfast meeting he attended, but he insisted that Trump never asked him for help regarding U.S. casino operators seeking new business opportunities.

Abe also did not directly address an issue regarding the payment from LDP headquarters of 150 million yen ($1.4 million) to the campaign staff of Anri Kawai when she successfully ran in the Upper House election last summer.

The large contribution took even LDP members by surprise.

Kawai’s office and residence have been searched by investigators for possible violations of the Public Offices Election Law by overpaying campaign staff.

Hiroshi Ogushi of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan asked Abe to confirm that the LDP made the payment to Kawai’s campaign office.

Abe responded that he left such matters up to party headquarters and offered no information about his possible involvement as president of the ruling party.

Abe was also repeatedly asked about cherry blossom viewing parties in Tokyo that he hosted. Opposition party lawmakers wanted to know why so many participants, including supporters of Abe, had been invited especially in the years after 2012 when he began his second stint as prime minister.

But Abe only repeated past responses about ambiguous standards for selecting participants as the main reason for the sharp increase in invitees to the gathering paid for with public funds.

(This article was written by Ryo Aibara and Dai Nagata.)