TOKYO - Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was grilled in both houses of the Diet on Friday as he apologized and corrected false statements regarding an allegation that a group managing his political funds partially covered the costs of dinner receptions for supporters.
Abe, who had repeatedly denied the allegations in the parliament during his tenure through September, said his comments "contradicted facts" as they were based on a secretary's false explanations and that investigations found the group failed to record the spending on financial reports.
"While it was done without my knowledge, I feel moral responsibility," Abe said, adding, "I deeply reflect on this and apologize to the people and all Diet members from my heart."
But the apology offered little to soothe opposition party lawmakers, who criticized Abe for being unwilling to give a thorough explanation to the people, and called for him to testify under oath in parliament.
A secretary of one of the opposition lawmakers criticized Abe for trying to "pass the blame on his subordinate and put an end" to the case.
Despite Abe's apology, some people have been angered by the recent development, calling for the former leader to take responsibility and testify under oath.
At JR Fukui Station in central Japan, Kenji Fujita, 83, said, "Given that the amount is huge, it is unthinkable that (he) has no knowledge of it at all. I am not satisfied with him only saying that he bears responsibility."
The development involving Abe, Japan's longest-serving prime minister, could deal a blow to his successor Yoshihide Suga, who served as his chief Cabinet secretary and defended the then-premier during press conferences and in Diet sessions.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which Suga heads and Abe belongs to, has been stepping up efforts to end the scandal involving the premier. But the opposition party camp is expected to grill Suga for having defended Abe.
The House of Representatives' research bureau has found Abe had made 118 statements in the parliament that differ from the facts.
Kiyomi Tsujimoto of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan urged Abe to resign as a lawmaker.
"Can a company president give false explanations more than 100 times and survive by saying he had been deceived by his employees?" "I think the president would resign," she said.
Abe ruled out resigning as a lawmaker, saying he wants to "make all-out efforts to regain people's trust." He later told reporters he plans to run in the general election expected next year.
Abe made appearances in the steering committees of both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors a day after prosecutors said they summarily indicted one of his state-paid secretaries, Hiroyuki Haikawa, for failing to keep legally required financial records related to the dinner functions.
The prosecutors said they decided not to indict Abe due to insufficient evidence.
Abe held a press conference Thursday, saying he had no knowledge of any problems with his camp's bookkeeping but apologized for making what turned out to be false statements.
Abe has filed corrected political funding reports for the three years through 2019 and suggested he will consider fixing reports from earlier years.