Ex-Japan PM Abe to face questioning in parliament over funding scandal

Antoni Slodkowski, Reuters

Posted at Dec 25 2020 12:28 PM

Ex-Japan PM Abe to face questioning in parliament over funding scandal 1
Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe bows at the start of the lower house parliamentary session as he faces questioning over a possible violation of election funding laws, in Tokyo, Japan December 25, 2020. Issei Kato, Reuters

TOKYO - Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was set on Friday to correct statements he had made in parliament related to a political funding scandal that has also cast a pall over the current premier.

Abe apologized on Thursday for repeated false denials that his political funding group had subzidised cherry blossom viewing parties for his supporters, in possible violation of the country's strict political funding laws.

Japan's longest-serving leader denied he had known anything about the payments, maintained innocence and pledged to work to regain public trust. The apology came after his secretary was summarily indicted over the issue and fined 1 million yen ($9,650).

This marks a dramatic reversal of fortunes for Abe, one of the country's political blue bloods, whose grandfather and great-uncle also served as premiers. He quit on health grounds in September after serving nearly eight years as prime minister.

The scandal could also damage his successor, Yoshihide Suga, who was Abe's right-hand man throughout his term and has defended his boss in the parliament.

Suga, who has been beset by other controversies and seen his support ratings slide less than a year before the next lower house election must be called, also apologized on Thursday for making inaccurate statements.

Abe is to appear in parliament from 1 p.m. (0400 GMT). Suga is to hold a news conference at 6 p.m. (0900 GMT) about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Abe had appeared for voluntary questioning by prosecutors on Monday about the issue and again denied his involvement, media said. Abe did not discuss in detail his dealings with the prosecutors during a news conference on Thursday.

His statements to parliament contradicted the findings of the prosecutors at least 118 times, several domestic media reported, citing a parliamentary research bureau.

Politicians in Japan are forbidden from providing anything to constituents that could be construed as a gift. The rule is so strict that two ministers in Abe's cabinet quit in quick succession last year for giving things such as melons, crabs and even potatoes to voters in their constituencies.