HIROSHIMA – Arrested former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his Diet member wife, Anri, may have distributed around ¥30 million ($280,000) in cash to some 100 people in their alleged plot to buy votes for the Upper House election last summer, a source familiar with the matter said.
Lists that were likely used to record who got how much have been confiscated by Hiroshima prosecutors from the couple’s home, the source said Friday.
The 57-year-old former minister, known for his close ties to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was arrested along with his wife Thursday on suspicion of giving out ¥25.7 million in cash to 94 local politicians and supporters as rewards for their efforts to secure votes for her in the House of Councilors election last July.
Of the 94, around 40 were members of the Hiroshima Prefectural Assembly and other local politicians, investigative sources said.
Anri Kawai, 46, won her first Diet seat in the election, representing the Hiroshima constituency.
The Kawais have denied the allegations under questioning, according to their lawyers, who quoted the former justice minister as saying, “I did nothing unlawful.”
His wife has said she “has no recollection of doing anything illegal,” according to her lawyer.
The lists were confiscated in January when they were investigating Anri Kawai’s former state-paid secretary, who was recently sentenced to 18 months in prison, suspended for five years, for illegally paying campaign staffers before and after the Upper House election.
The lists consisted of different types, including one apparently used to record cash paid to local politicians and mayors, and another for Anri Kawai’s supporters in Hiroshima Prefecture, the source said.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office’s special investigative team, which is now heading the probe, had been playing a central role in questioning around 100 people based on the lists before the couple were arrested.
Most have admitted to receiving money from Kawai or his wife, the investigative sources said earlier.
Meanwhile, the two are also suspected of destroying evidence of their alleged vote-buying by deleting text messages sent on Line to her election staff, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
On Friday, their home and offices in Hiroshima were searched.
In March, the Tokyo prosecutors confiscated their smartphones at a Tokyo hotel where they were staying and found through analysis that messages they had sent on Line before the election had been erased. The prosecutors have recovered the data, the sources said.
The ex-minister’s handle on Line was Araiguma, meaning raccoon, while his wife went by Angie, according to the sources.
People involved in the campaign said a local assembly member suspected of being a recipient of the Kawais’ largess was mentioned in online exchanges by a group on Line members. Arrangements were also made about places to visit when an aide to Abe came in to support their campaign.
The ex-minister, who is a member of the House of Representatives, served as Abe’s special adviser for foreign affairs and briefly assumed the justice post after the Upper House election. Both Kawais were until recently members of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.
A male acquaintance of the ex-minister had also asked local assembly members to gather votes for Anri Kawai at her husband’s request and reported to him over Line, according to the sources.
Abe appointed Kawai as justice minister in a Cabinet reshuffle in September. However, he stepped down the following month in the wake of the scandal over the illegal payments to his wife’s election campaigners.