• Jiji, staff report

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Police on Wednesday arrested a senior member of a group seeking the recall of Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura, and three others for their suspected roles in the fabrication of signatures collected for the campaign.

Arrested by the Aichi Prefectural Police for alleged violation of the local autonomy law were Takahiro Tanaka, 59, chief of the secretariat for the group and former member of the Aichi Prefectural Assembly, his wife, Naomi, 58, the couple's second son, Masato, 28, and Michiyo Watanabe, 54, in charge of accounting for the secretariat.

The four are suspected of forging signatures for the recall campaign around late last October by hiring people outside Aichi Prefecture and letting them write signatures for residents of the prefecture.

The police did not disclose whether the four suspects have admitted to the charges.

Also on Wednesday, investigators from the police department raided Tanaka's home and other places for evidence to back up the charges, believing that Tanaka led the scheme.

Tanaka was arrested at a facility in Shizuoka Prefecture where he was staying on Wednesday morning. Early this month, Tanaka told reporters that he did not think his act regarding the signatures was illegal.

The recall campaign was launched in opposition to Omura's response over the Aichi Triennale 2019 art festival. Omura headed the executive committee of the art festival, which featured some controversial art pieces, including a statue of a girl symbolizing "comfort women."

“Comfort women” is a euphemism for those who suffered under Japan’s military brothel system before and during World War II. They were forced or coerced into sexual servitude under various circumstances, including abduction, deception and poverty.

According to an investigation by the Aichi prefectural election board, about 360,000 of the some 435,000 signatures submitted last year were found to be invalid. Among them were signatures apparently written by the same person and the names of dead residents.

Acting on a criminal complaint filed by the prefectural board, the police department in February this year raided 64 municipal election boards in Aichi and confiscated the lists of signatures submitted by the recall campaign group.

In March, the police searched the former office of the group where the secretariat was located to investigate how the forged signatures were created.

Katsuya Takasu, a high-profile cosmetic surgeon who is critical of Omura, and others started collecting signatures for their bid to oust the governor from office. The move was supported by Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura.

The fabrication of the signatures, if true, was "an outrageous act that destroys our country's democracy," Omura told reporters following the arrest of Tanaka and the three other people. "I do hope that the whole picture of the incident will be made public as early as possible and that those responsible will be punished strictly."

Omura also criticized Kawamura for initiating the campaign, which led to "fabrication (of signatures), a criminal act." The mayor "should unveil everything he knows about the scheme and take responsibility."

In talks with reporters, Kawamura denied that he was involved in the alleged wrongdoing while saying that he feels responsible for the incident.

Takasu, who runs Takasu Clinic, said he did not know at all that Tanaka was involved in the signature fabrication. "I didn't play any part (in the misconduct). I want the whole truth to be revealed," Takasu said.

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