Former Japan PM Abe Avoids Charges Over Cherry Blossom Parties

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won’t be charged over allegations his political funding group illegally subsidized parties for hundreds of voters in a case casting a shadow over the current premier.

Tokyo prosecutors in a statement Thursday said that one of the former premier’s aides has been summarily indicted — a move that could lead to a fine of up to about $10,000 — for failing to record financial details relating to the use of the funds.

The scandal over the gatherings held at a Tokyo hotel the night before an annual publicly funded cherry blossom viewing party has tarnished the image of current Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who served as Abe’s right-hand man throughout his record term of almost eight consecutive years in office.

With less than a year to go before the next election must be called, Suga, who defended Abe over the allegations, has seen his support slump due to the scandal and diminishing public confidence over his handling of the pandemic.

Voter support tumbled to 39% in a December survey by the Asahi newspaper, compared with 56% a month earlier.

Abe, who stepped down in September for health reasons, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing over the gatherings. He may be summoned to parliament Friday to face questions over the issue, Kyodo news said. Staff at Abe’s office declined to comment on the matter.

Toward the end of 2019, then premier Abe faced stiff questioning in parliament from opposition members over the blossom parties. Kyodo and other Japanese media outlets reported that Abe submitted to voluntary questioning by prosecutors Monday.

While it is highly unusual for a former Japanese prime minister to be convicted of a crime, Kakuei Tanaka was convicted on bribery charges in the Lockheed case in 1983. The former premier received a prison sentence, but died while his case was still on appeal.

– Bloomberg

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