Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe admitted Friday to the national legislature he had provided false testimony over spending by his political office on dinner parties for supporters held on the eve of annual cherry blossom viewing parties, in a scandal that has tainted his administration’s legacy and corroded his own credibility.
“I offered my responses based on the knowledge I had at that time. But, in the end, my remarks were incorrect and harmed the public’s trust toward the legislature,” Abe said in the meeting of the Lower House Steering Committee. “I’m acutely aware of the significance of my political responsibility. Again, I apologize to all members of the public and lawmakers.”
Throughout the two-hour appearance at steering committees of both chambers, the former prime minister deflected blame onto his aides and maintained that they had not told him the truth.
Abe declined to provide detailed accounts of exactly how the money was spent, saying the hotels where the dinners were hosted had refused to disclose them, but he did say he would consider revealing itemized receipts to the public.
The former leader’s summoning to the Diet took place a day after the special investigation unit of Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office went ahead with a summary indictment of one of his state-paid secretaries on a charge of violating the Political Funds Control Act. The secretary was fined ¥1 million on Thursday, and is said to have already resigned from Abe’s office.
The prosecutors did not press charges against the nation’s longest-serving prime minister, who cooperated in a voluntary hearing this week. Still, the decline of Abe’s influence within the party and the damage to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will be unavoidable, at least in the short term, which could have a spillover effect into 2021 — a crucial general election year.
During the Friday meeting of the Lower House steering committee, opposition lawmakers — who had been grilling Abe for months — accused him of intentionally misleading Diet members. Abe again denied knowledge of or participation in supplementing the costs of the dinner events, acknowledging that his statements had been untrue but maintaining that the deception had not been deliberate.
Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Kiyomi Tsujimoto pressed for Abe’s resignation as a Diet member to take responsibility, but the former prime minister refused, saying he would endeavor to earn back the trust of the public by serving the country “based on my profound reflection.”
Takahiro Kuroiwa, another CDP lawmaker, faulted Abe for lying and questioned him on whether he would proceed with embezzlement charges against the secretaries who he said used his office’s reserve to cover the dinner costs without his awareness. The former leader instead defended them and ruled out such a possibility, essentially offering clemency in recognition of their lengthy service.
“I just can’t believe that…