TV Asahi retracts report that ex-PM Abe questioned by Japan's prosecutor

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stepped down due to poor health in September. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Commercial broadcaster TV Asahi on Friday (Dec 18) retracted its report, made earlier in the day, that former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was questioned by Tokyo prosecutors on or before Thursday.

The original report had cited several unnamed lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The broadcaster said in its evening news bulletin: "It is incorrect that Mr Abe has been questioned. We apologise to Mr Abe, all relevant stakeholders, and our viewers for the error."

Domestic media said earlier this month that prosecutors had asked Mr Abe to report for voluntary questioning in a case they were building against his secretary over unreported political funds involving as much as 40 million yen (S$514,000).

Mr Abe's office did not immediately respond to questions by Reuters and no further details were immediately available.

Mr Abe, who stepped down due to poor health in September, is under fire on suspicion his office helped cover the costs of dinner parties for supporters, a possible violation of funding laws that he vehemently denied when questioned in Parliament last year.

Local media reported on Friday that Mr Abe may be summoned to appear in Parliament, perhaps before the end of the year, to answer questions, with Mr Abe quoted prior to the Asahi report as saying he would respond in good faith.

"The prosecution is currently investigating this issue, but once the results are available I would like to answer in good faith," he said. "Of course, I would also like to respond in good faith to Parliament," the Nikkei Shimbun quoted him as saying.

The issue, which dogged Mr Abe during the last year of his tenure, also risks damaging current premier Yoshihide Suga, who was his right-hand man during his 2012-2020 term and is already under pressure for his response to the coronavirus, including a U-turn on a travel subsidy programme.

Mr Suga has also drawn fire for joining end-of-the-year social gatherings after imploring Japanese citizens to avoid such parties as the country sees a record number of coronavirus cases.

Politicians in Japan cannot provide anything to constituents that could be construed as a gift. The rule is so strict that two ministers in Mr Abe's Cabinet last year had to quit over giving things such as melons, crabs and even potatoes to voters in their constituencies.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.