Prime minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan apologized Thursday for what he said were unintentionally false statements about a political spending scandal that has tarred the first months of his administration.
The apology came hours after Japanese prosecutors said they would seek to fine an aide to Shinzo Abe, the former prime minister, over alleged violations of political spending rules.
Prosecutors said Abe himself will not be charged in connection with the matter, an unusual statement that appeared to be aimed at quelling media speculation about his fate.
Suga, who succeeded Abe as prime minister in September, has not been accused of wrongdoing. Still, Suga spent Abe’s nearly eight years in office as his top spokesman and political fixer, defending him to the press and in Japan’s Parliament against allegations of wrongdoing.
The residue of Abe’s scandal — involving several alleged violations of the country’s election and political financing laws — has tarnished Suga’s administration, which is already reeling from public anger over its handling of the coronavirus. The prime minister’s poll numbers have dropped precipitously from a high of around 65% when he took office to 39% in a poll by The Asahi Shimbun, a daily newspaper, taken last weekend.
Prosecutors are calling for Hiroyuki Haikawa, a 61-year-old former aide to Abe, to be punished under an abbreviated legal process reserved for relatively minor infractions liable for fines under about $10,000. The announcement effectively ensures that the accusations will never be aired in a public court hearing.
Haikawa stands accused of underreporting by hundreds of thousands of dollars the true amount paid using campaign funds for banquets for Abe’s political supporters.
Abe and Suga have both consistently denied any wrongdoing. But following the prosecutors’ announcement, both men found themselves apologizing for making false statements to Parliament, saying that they had unintentionally misrepresented the facts surrounding the scandal.
Speaking to reporters Thursday evening, a pale and trembling Suga said that in the process of defending Abe, he had responded to questions from Parliament with “replies that differed from the facts. In regards to this, I express my deepest apologies to the nation.”