• Kyodo, Jiji

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Former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his lawmaker wife, Anri Kawai, on Tuesday pleaded not guilty in the first hearing of a trial at the Tokyo District Court to charges of vote buying during the latter’s campaign to be elected to the Upper House last summer.

Katsuyuki Kawai, a House of Representative member known for having close ties to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has been indicted on suspicion of violating the election law by handing out cash to politicians and supporters in Hiroshima Prefecture to reward them for votes secured in the campaign to get his wife elected in July 2019.

The two were arrested by Tokyo prosecutors in June and indicted the following month, dealing a blow to the Abe administration, which has recently seen its popularity wane over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the indictment, the 57-year-old former minister doled out about ¥29 million among 100 people, including local politicians in Hiroshima, between March and August last year with the intention of securing votes.

Anri Kawai, 46, is accused of conspiring with him on ¥1.7 million worth of cash handouts to five individuals between March and June.

While admitting that he distributed money, Katsuyuki Kawai told the court, “It was not meant to ask them to vote (for Anri) or round up votes” for her.

Anri Kawai said she “never conspired with my husband or handed out cash to get elected,” adding that money her husband gave out was for the purpose of expressing support for people running in local elections or to congratulate those who won seats.

The Kawais, who have both already resigned from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party over the scandal, will lose their seats in the Diet if they are found guilty and their rulings are finalized.

On motives for alleged cash distribution, the prosecution claimed that Katsuyuki Kawai grew concerned when the LDP’s Hiroshima prefectural chapter decided to support his wife’s rival in the election.

Expecting a tough path toward a successful campaign, the husband decided to pay cash to prefectural assembly members and local mayors, regardless of whether they were close to him, to ask them to gather votes for his wife, the prosecution said.

The prosecutors also argued that Katsuyuki Kawai had a company erase the lists of recipients from his computer.

No criminal charges have been sought against any of the 100 people who allegedly received the cash.

The Kawai’s side is planning to request the termination of the trial, claiming that prosecutors conducted illegal plea bargaining with the recipients of the cash to obtain testimonies helpful to their probes into the couple.

While the Public Offices Election Law urges courts to swiftly deliver rulings on election-related allegations, typically within 100 days from the indictment, the trial is expected to take longer due to the large number of witnesses that are set to be called.

In the election, Anri Kawai, a former prefectural assembly member, won one of the two seats in the Hiroshima constituency where a fellow LDP candidate, then-incumbent and veteran politician Kensei Mizote, also ran. Mizote was unseated.

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