December 23, 2020 at 12:59 JST
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe responds to a question from an opposition party lawmaker during a Lower House Budget Committee session in February. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
Shinzo Abe, who was prime minister until three months ago, has been questioned by prosecutors in connection with a political fund scandal while he was in office.
Given the gravity of the latest development, what should Abe do to fulfill his political responsibility?
First and foremost, it is imperative that he appear before an open session in the Diet and thoroughly explain himself.
Abe has voluntarily submitted to questioning by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office’s special investigation squad over payments to cover the costs of banquets held on the eve of annual cherry blossom viewing parties during his years in office.
Abe apparently denied any involvement, and prosecutors are not expected to indict him.
According to sources, prosecutors plans to seek a summary indictment of his chief state-paid aide for failing to report the banquet costs, which constitutes a violation of the Political Fund Control Law. The aide oversaw accounting as head of Abe’s support organization, which hosted the banquets at upscale hotels in Tokyo.
Questions arose over the banquets because the 5,000-yen ($48) fee paid by each guest was unusually low, and the support organization never listed the related incomes or expenditures in its political fund report.
Abe stuck to explanations that lacked conviction, such as that his side never subsidized the banquets and that the support organization was not required to report the transactions since the guests paid their fees directly to the hotels.
However, prosecutors found that Abe’s side had bankrolled more than 9 million yen over the most recent five years, which means that Abe had given false statements in the Diet and at news conferences for nearly one year.
According to the Lower House’s Research Bureau, Abe made remarks that conflicted with the truth on at least 118 occasions. The three types of remarks—“My office was not involved,” “There is no itemized bill” and “The balance was not covered”—were counted.
When false statements are a matter of routine, no legitimate discourse is possible. The appalling reality is that the prime minister himself was undoing the Diet’s function of keeping the administration in check.
The chief state-paid aide and others have reportedly told investigators that Abe was never informed about the banquet costs being covered and that not reporting the costs was their own decision.
Assuming that was the case, did Abe accept without question whatever he was told, no matter how dubious?
That is hard to believe, especially in light of the number of times Abe was asked in the Diet to confirm his claims with the hotels.
Nearly a month has passed since the payments to cover the banquet costs came to light, but Abe has not agreed to explain himself to the public.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party apparently plans to set up an opportunity for Abe to appear in the Diet once the investigation reaches a certain stage.
However, much to our disbelief and disgust, the LDP is said to be considering holding the occasion in private at a directors’ meeting of the Rules and Administration Committee, where no minutes will be taken.
This is no way to try to recover the public’s lost faith in politics.
False statements made in public can only be corrected in public. There are precedents of former prime ministers, such as Yasuhiro Nakasone, Noboru Takeshita and Morihiro Hosokawa, who testified under oath in the Budget Committee to argue their cases when confronted with scandals.
Abe has told the Diet of his readiness to “sincerely deal with (the allegations).” If so, nothing should stop him from submitting himself as a sworn witness, aware that he is at risk of committing perjury.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 23
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