Five campaign workers for Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers Azuma Konno and Sayuri Kamata received suspended prison sentences Wednesday for violating the election law in October, a ruling that could lead to criminal charges against the lawmakers themselves.
The Sendai District Court convicted the five of hiring campaign workers by concluding paid telephone canvassing contracts with a manpower agency affiliated with Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. for November’s general election for the House of Representatives.
The Public Offices Election Law prohibits remuneration or promise of remuneration to campaign workers.
The court sentenced Koji Ebisu, 48, chairman of the Miyagi prefectural branch of the 700,000-member Japanese Electrical Electronic and Information Union; Masahiko Kato, 40, director general of the Tohoku region general headquarters of the NTT labor union; and Yoshikazu Aiza, 53, leader of the Tohoku region general headquarters of the union; to 20 months to two years in prison, suspended for four years.
The court also sentenced two others to 14 months in prison, suspended for four years, for the same crime.
In handing down the sentences, presiding Judge Eiichi Honma said that “the results of hurting the fairness of national elections, which form the foundations of democracy, were extremely grave.”
Prosecutors had demanded two-year prison terms for Ebisu, Kato and Aiza, and 14- to 18-month prison terms for the other two.
The five pleaded not guilty to the charges. They and the DPJ have agreed to appeal the ruling.
Konno and Kamata, both Lower House members, have denied any involvement in the crime. Prosecutors may indict the two lawmakers once the appeal process for Ebisu, Kato and Aiza is over.
Ebisu, Kato and Aiza are considered persons in charge of the organized election campaigns and would be subject to the guilt-by-association clause in the election law.
If Konno and Kamata were found guilty by association in the crime, they would lose their Diet seats and be barred from running for public office in their constituencies for five years.
Konno ran for the seat in Miyagi Prefecture’s No. 1 district, while Kamata ran for the seat in the No. 2 district.
In Tokyo, DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada issued a statement saying that while it was not the lawmakers themselves or senior members of their campaign staff who were arrested and indicted, the party still takes Wednesday’s ruling seriously.
Meanwhile, Yoshihiko Noda, head of the party’s Diet affairs committee, told a news conference that he felt there were too many restrictions in the current Public Offices Election Law.
“They lead to an excessive restraint (in campaigning) and lack the viewpoint of providing the general public with material to make their judgments,” he said.
Kamata issued a separate statement in which she said she was “pained” to see the incident unfold, as she had been unaware of many of the facts regarding her campaign, and added that she would see how the judiciary continues to handle the case.
“I believe that fulfilling the mission I have been given with all of my heart is the way in which I can respond to everyone who has supported me,” she said.
According to the Justice Ministry, prosecutors have filed 21 guilt-by-association cases against 20 people in connection with national-level elections since the election law was revised in 1994. The prosecution has won all of them save two, which are still in court.
Of these cases, only Minoru Noda, who at the time was a Lower House member, lost his Diet seat.