Arrested former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his lawmaker wife, Anri, are suspected of destroying evidence of their alleged vote-buying by deleting text messages on the Line app to her election campaign staff, sources said Friday.
The couple were arrested Thursday for allegedly giving millions of yen in cash to local politicians as rewards for their efforts to secure votes for Anri Kawai in the House of Councilors election last July. They have denied the allegations during several rounds of voluntary questioning.
Prosecutors, including the special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office, on Friday searched their home and offices in Hiroshima, after searching their Tokyo offices and dorms the previous day. Anri Kawai won her first Diet seat in the Upper House election in the Hiroshima constituency.
They suspect that Katsuyuki Kawai handed over the money in such a way that made it hard for the recipients to decline, in order to shore up votes for his wife.
A lawyer who met with Anri Kawai at the Tokyo District Court on Friday said the suspect denied having committed any illegal act. Katsuyuki Kawai is also denying the charges.
In March, prosecutors confiscated the Kawais’ smartphones at a Tokyo hotel where they were staying and were able to find that messages on the Line app before the election had been erased. The prosecutors have recovered the data, they said.
Katsuyuki Kawai, 57, went by the name Araiguma, meaning raccoon, on the messaging app, and Anri Kawai, 46, used the name Angie, according to the sources.
People involved in the campaign said a local lawmaker, to whom Katsuyuki Kawai is suspected of giving cash, was mentioned in online exchanges among members of a Line group, and arrangements were also made about places to visit when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s secretary came to support their campaign.
Katsuyuki Kawai, a House of Representatives member, served as Abe’s special adviser for foreign affairs and briefly assumed the post of justice minister after the Upper House election.
A male acquaintance of Katsuyuki Kawai had also asked local lawmakers to gather votes for Anri Kawai upon her husband’s request and reported the situation to him over Line, according to the sources.
Meanwhile, sources said Friday that Katsuyuki Kawai distributed cash to members of local city and prefectural assemblies as “money for teacakes.”
According to a city assembly member in Hiroshima who received ¥300,000 from Katsuyuki Kawai, the former minister handed the local politician an envelope containing the cash by saying that it was money for teacakes, when the two met several days before the Hiroshima Municipal Assembly election in April last year.
The city assembly member refused to take the cash, but Katsuyuki Kawai left the envelope on the table at the member’s office.
“There were many people, so I did not want to quarrel,” the city assembly member said. “I was busy with the election and could not return the money.”
“He suddenly came, so it was like a surprise attack,” the local politician added.
According to one member of the Hiroshima Prefectural Assembly, Katsuyuki Kawai handed an envelope containing ¥300,000 to a family member while the assembly member was not at home.
Another prefectural assembly member received ¥300,000 soon after being elected.
“He said ‘congratulations’ and handed the envelope to me,” the assembly member said. “I thought it was a congratulatory gift, so I didn’t reject it.”
The two prefectural assembly members later returned the money.
Katsuyuki Kawai allegedly offered a total of ¥1.7 million to five people in collusion with his wife prior to the election, and around ¥24 million by himself to 91 people from around late March to early August last year, in return for mobilizing support for Anri Kawai during the campaign, according to the prosecutors.
Abe appointed Katsuyuki Kawai as justice minister in a Cabinet reshuffle in September. However, he stepped down the following month in the wake of a separate money scandal over his wife’s election campaign.