• Kyodo

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The former mayor and deputy mayor of the city of Kushiro were handed suspended sentences Wednesday for interfering in the mayoral election of a neighboring town that has the same name.

The court found former Mayor Kensuke Watanuki, 56, and his deputy, Hidenobu Kakizaki, 58, guilty of violating the Public Offices Election Law by meddling in the mayoral election for the sibling town in an effort to smooth merger talks with the smaller municipality.

Watanuki was sentenced by the Kushiro District Court to one year in prison, suspended for five years, while Kakizaki was sentenced to an eight-month prison term, suspended for five years. Neither can vote or run in elections until their sentences are completed.

Watanuki said he takes the ruling seriously and will not file an appeal.

The court ruled that they interfered in the election because they wanted to take advantage of financial benefits that the national government offers to municipalities that decide to merge.

Presiding Judge Yutaka Inoue said their acts were unprecedented and undermined the public’s trust in city administration.

According to the court, Watanuki and Kakizaki conspired to help a candidate who supported the merger to win the other Kushiro’s mayoral election on Oct. 20. They used their influence within their city office to get 10 municipal officials to instruct their employees who reside in the other town to vote for the candidate they had chosen.

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