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Japan minister gave specific instructions when selecting gifts to voters: ex-secretary

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Isshu Sugawara speaks at a House of Councillors Budget Committee meeting on Oct. 16, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Isshu Sugawara, who has been accused of giving gifts to voters in his constituency, apparently instructed his former secretary on what gifts to give who, according to an interview conducted by an opposition lawmaker with the ex-secretary.

Sugawara, a House of Representatives member elected from the Tokyo No. 9 electoral district, is suspected of handing out items including melons and crabs to voters in his constituency. A weekly magazine recently reported on the scandal, and House of Councillors member Hideya Sugio of the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan released a voice recording on Oct. 17 of an interview with the former secretary.

The recording was of an interview carried out by Sugio in mid-October. He met with the former secretary for some two hours. The ex-assistant told him that everything from the types of gifts to their recipients was "instructed by Mr. Sugawara."

The former aide testified that Sugawara specifically said, "This person gets crabs and this one salmon roe." The ex-assistant at the time took notes, but because they were handwritten and "were hard to read, I created a list on a computer at the office."

The act of giving out money or items to voters in one's constituency is banned under the Public Offices Election Act. Sugio argues that if Sugawara actually did hand out food items to voters, it would constitute a violation of the election law.

The list allegedly includes the names of 110 people in Sugawara's electoral district and their home addresses, as well as the items they were apparently given. Sugawara told an upper house budget committee meeting on Oct. 15 that he has been contacting those who are on the list to check if they had received any gifts from him.

(Japanese original by Yoshitaka Koyama and Kei Sato, Political News Department)

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