Japan police arrest fraud suspect linked to ex-PM’s event

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese police on Friday arrested a man on fraud charges linked to annual cherry blossom viewing parties that were hosted by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but the new government ruled out an investigation into how the party and its budget were used.

Abe’s annual cherry party came into question last year when opposition lawmakers pointed out the number of guests and high cost, accusing Abe of using taxpayers’ money to entertain constituents.

Abe has denied any wrongdoing or personal ties with the suspect and is not facing any criminal investigation so far. His successor, Yoshihide Suga, said he will discontinue such parties in a sign of departure from Abe.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, at a regular news conference Friday, confirmed the arrest of the fraud suspect but said that the government does not plan to investigate further.

He said that an investigation by Abe’s government found that all guest books had been destroyed.

The suspect, Takayoshi Yamaguchi, has long had close ties with senior members of the ruling party, Japanese media reports say.

The 78-year-old former chairman of now defunct Japan Life, a health care products dealer, is suspected of deceiving victims into investing in an expensive magnetic therapy goods business, causing them losses totaling 200 billion yen ($1.9 billion). He printed an invitation card to the 2015 cherry party bearing Abe’s name to gain clients’ trust, fraud victims’ lawyers and opposition lawmakers said.

A number printed on the invitation card indicated that Yamaguchi was invited by Abe himself, according to the lawmakers and lawyers. Abe has denied any personal connection or contacts with the suspect.

Jun Azumi, a senior lawmaker of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party, demanded Suga’s government live up to its pledge and serve for the people’s interest.