• Kyodo

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In a ruling Wednesday that could eventually oust Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Yuzuru Tsuzuki from the Diet, one of his campaign workers and an aide received suspended prison sentences for violating the election law in October.

The Toyohashi Branch of the Nagoya District Court sentenced Toshihiko Kusano, 53, a former Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, city assembly member and director general of Tsuzuki’s campaign headquarters, and Nobumoto Iseki, 29, Tsuzuki’s former government-paid secretary, to 18 months in prison, suspended for five years, for promising money to nonregistered campaign workers.

Prosecutors had demanded 18-month prison terms for both Kusano and Iseki.

Iseki plans to appeal the ruling, while a lawyer for Kusano said he would consult his client about whether to appeal.

The two violated the Public Offices Election Law, which states election campaign workers must be registered before being paid. They had promised 800 yen per hour to 25 “volunteers” for phone canvassing.

Kusano pleaded guilty but said his actual role at the headquarters was small, while Iseki pleaded not guilty. Their lawyers argued that their actions were not serious enough to merit criminal punishment, and that the indictments constituted excessive restrictions on election campaigns.

Tsuzuki, a House of Representatives member, has denied any involvement in the crime. But prosecutors are set to indict him if Kusano and Iseki do not appeal the Wednesday ruling.

If Tsuzuki is found guilty by association in the crime, he will lose his Diet seat and be barred from running for public office in his home district for five years.

Speaking to reporters in the Diet, Tsuzuki criticized the court ruling because it “fails to take into account the defense argument.”

He said he will consult his lawyers and the DPJ leadership about his response, but added that he “hopes to carry on with my duties as a Diet member.”

DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada said it is too early to discuss Tsuzuki’s fate as a Diet member, noting the ruling on his aides has not been finalized yet.

While Okada said he takes the ruling seriously, he also raised doubts on whether the offenses merit criminal punishment.

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