• Kyodo

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Prosecutors sought a four-year prison term Friday for former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, who has been indicted on a charge of vote buying aimed at securing a seat for his wife in a 2019 House of Councilors election.

In seeking the prison term and the forfeit of ¥1.5 million during his trial at the Tokyo District Court, the prosecutors said the former House of Representatives lawmaker, 58, had “ultimate responsibility for the election” of his wife Anri Kawai and “managed all activities related” to achieving his wife’s election victory.

“It was unprecedented massive vote buying,” they said.

According to the indictment, Kawai handed out a total of about ¥29 million to 100 local politicians and supporters in return for securing votes for his wife in the House of Councilors election in July 2019.

Kawai had asserted his innocence at the beginning of trial but reversed course and pleaded guilty later, telling a court hearing in March, “I cannot deny that I desired to get my wife elected.” He admitted that the cash he gave out to 90 individuals was for vote buying and resigned as a lawmaker.

As for cash handouts to others which Kawai had denied was vote buying, the prosecutors said his claim is false, as some recipients had admitted they were intended to buy their votes.

Ahead of the prosecutors’ statement, Kawai’s defense counsel said Kawai donated ¥7 million to a foundation from his own salary.

By February, 94 of the 100 people who allegedly received cash from Kawai had said they understood the money was intended for vote buying.

The trial is expected to conclude after the defense counsel’s closing argument slated for May 18, with a ruling possibly to be given as early as June.

The Tokyo District Court handed Anri Kawai, 47, a 16-month jail term, suspended for five years, in January this year for conspiring with her husband in the vote buying. Anri Kawai resigned as an Upper House member in February.

Appointed justice minister in September 2019, Katsuyuki Kawai stepped down just over a month later after the Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine reported on possible election law violations during his wife’s campaign.

The Kawais were arrested in June 2020. Both of them left the ruling Liberal Democratic Party shortly before their arrest.

The LDP headquarters provided ¥150 million, an unusually large sum, to Kawai’s camp, ahead of the 2019 Upper House poll.

Anri’s election campaign was supported by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, now prime minister, and other heavyweight LDP politicians.

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