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Politics

Abe's office suspected of illegal spending on parties

Prosecutors ask former Japan PM's aides and backers about subsides at 5-star events

Japan's then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe greets attendees at a cherry blossom party in 2019. 

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The office of former Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is suspected of covering a shortfall of millions of yen spent on parties held for supporters during his time as leader, a possible violation of the political funds control law, a source with knowledge of the situation said Tuesday.

Prosecutors have questioned one of Abe's secretaries and multiple other supporters over allegations that his office illegally paid an amount for each dinner party held annually between 2013 and 2019 at a Tokyo hotel.

The questioning came after a criminal complaint was filed in May against Abe, the state-paid secretary and his fund manager by lawyers and scholars, claiming they broke the law by failing to report the payment of the difference between the total costs of the party and the contributions paid by attendees.

The banquet was organized by an Abe supporter group on the eve of a publicly funded annual cherry blossom viewing party, itself another cause of controversy for the former leader.

About 800 participants, many of whom were voters in his constituency in Yamaguchi Prefecture, were charged 5,000 yen each, even though such events at the five-star hotel normally cost approximately 11,000 yen or more per head.

The complaint also alleged that Abe and the two others violated the election law by contributing to covering the cost of the gathering, saying it is tantamount to buying votes.

Abe denied in parliament his office covered the shortfall. However, the special investigative team at the Tokyo prosecutors' office has been looking into hotel documentation regarding the parties.

On Monday, Abe's office released a statement saying they are "cooperating with the investigation and sincerely dealing" with the matter but did not elaborate further.

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