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A civil inquest body has concluded that former trade minister Isshu Sugawara should be indicted over a money and gift scandal, a decision the ex-minister said he takes “seriously.”

Following the decision by the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, Tokyo prosecutors will now resume investigating the allegation that the Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker’s office offered money and gifts to supporters between 2017 and 2019 in violation of the election law.

Such panels, composed of 11 randomly chosen eligible voters, are set up if complainants challenge a decision by prosecutors not to put a suspect on trial.

Following the panel’s decision, Sugawara said Friday in a statement, “I take it seriously. I will respond with sincerity if requested by authorities.”

Former trade minister Isshu Sugawara attends a Lower House plenary session in Tokyo on Friday. | KYODO
Former trade minister Isshu Sugawara attends a Lower House plenary session in Tokyo on Friday. | KYODO

In June last year, the special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office decided not to indict Sugawara over the gifting of condolence money and other items, through his secretary and others, totaling ¥300,000 to 27 voters from 2017 to 2019.

The decision took into account that the 59-year-old member of the House of Representatives had stepped down as the minister of economy, trade and industry and apologized.

The Public Offices Election Law prohibits politicians from making donations to voters in their constituencies, except for money given in person at ceremonies such as weddings and funerals.

But in a rare move, the panel decided last month to review the proceedings after a Tokyo resident who came forward with the initial complaint challenged the dismissal of the case, arguing the special investigation squad’s handling of the case was “questionable.”

The panel said in a document that it is natural to think that the provision of condolence money and gifts was intended to not only build personal relations with recipients but effectively ask them to vote for Sugawara in future elections.

Sugawara stepped down from his ministerial position on Oct. 25, 2019, a day after a weekly magazine reported that his secretary had given condolence money to the bereaved family of a supporter in his Tokyo constituency.

The resignation came a little more than a month after he had assumed the post in the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Sugawara admitted to the allegations in a news conference last year and said he was aware of the illegality of the acts, but expressed his intention to continue as a lawmaker.

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