Former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, who has been arrested for alleged vote-buying, mentioned Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's name when distributing cash last year, it was learned Thursday.
According to a town's assembly member who was a senior official in the supporters group for Kawai's wife, Anri, in her election campaign last summer, the 57-year-old former minister handed the assembly member ¥300,000 in cash, saying that it was "from Abe."
Katsuyuki Kawai allegedly distributed cash to local politicians in Hiroshima Prefecture in an attempt to buy votes for Anri Kawai, 46, in the July election for the House of Councilors.
Secretaries to Abe are said to have visited Hiroshima to support Anri Kawai's campaign.
The special unit of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor's Office is questioning the town assembly member and others voluntarily over the distribution of ¥25.7 million in total by the Kawais, allegedly to buy votes.
According to the assembly member, the ¥300,000 was handed over by Katsuyuki Kawai at his wife's office in the city of Hiroshima in May last year. The assembly member could not refuse as Katsuyuki Kawai mentioned the prime minister by name.
The assembly member still has the cash and is willing to return it.
According to informed sources, Katsuyuki Kawai told investigators that the money given out to local politicians was for political activities unrelated to Anri Kawai's campaign, and that the money given to senior members of her supporters group was remuneration and payment for expenses linked to her campaign.
Katsuyuki Kawai has admitted to distributing money but not to vote-buying.
Before the July 2019 election, the headquarters of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party sent ¥150 million in total to chapters headed by the Kawais. Prosecutors are investigating how that money was used.
Katsuyuki Kawai said that the money given out was his own money, and that it was not from the ¥150 million the LDP gave him.
Meanwhile, Yoshinori Tenma, mayor of Mihara in Hiroshima Prefecture, said Thursday that he will resign Tuesday for his receipt of ¥1.5 million in cash from Katsuyuki Kawai over the election campaign for Anri Kawai.
The mayor announced the decision at a news conference held at the Mihara Municipal Government office.
Tenma on Wednesday night called Noriyuki Ninooka, head of the Mihara Municipal Assembly, to convey his intention to leave office. The resignation offer was accepted. Tenma is the second municipal government head to quit for receiving cash over the election campaign scandal, after Shinji Kosaka, who resigned as mayor of the Hiroshima town of Akiota in April.
The Kawais were arrested last week on suspicion of violating the public offices election law by distributing cash to scores of local politicians in Hiroshima Prefecture for vote-buying for Anri Kawai in the July 2019 Upper House election. Anri Kawai ran in the election in the Hiroshima prefectural constituency, winning a Diet seat for the first time.
The Kawais resigned from the LDP a day before their arrests, but both remain as lawmakers. Katsuyuki Kawai is a member of the House of Representatives, the lower chamber.
Tenma said he met with Anri Kawai in Mihara in March last year. Just after she left, Katsuyuki Kawai handed Tenma an envelope containing ¥500,000. Tenma met with Katsuyuki Kawai again in June that year in the city of Hiroshima, where he accepted an additional ¥1 million.
The mayor said he initially refused on both occasions, but was forced to take the money. He did not write a receipt for it.
Tenma said he did not sense an intent to buy votes from Kawai's money gift.
"I had thought I would return the money when the time came, but I was naive," he said.
He added that he had denied receiving the money until now because he thought it was a secret between him and Katsuyuki Kawai.
After serving as a member of the Mihara Municipal Assembly and then the Hiroshima Prefectural Assembly, Tenma was elected Mihara mayor for the first time in 2013. He is now serving his second term.