TOKYO -- House of Councillors member Anri Kawai, who has been accused of election law violations, received some 150 million yen from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) headquarters before the race -- far more than her rival candidate backed by the same party, it has emerged.
Kawai won her upper house seat for the first time in the July 2019 election. The amount she received was about 10 times the amount remitted to the campaign office of her fellow party contender Kensei Mizote, who was given 15 million yen. The huge gap exposes the LDP headquarters' commitment to Kawai, the wife of former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, who is close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The LDP had fielded both Anri Kawai and Mizote as its official candidates in a bid to win the two seats that were up for grabs in the Hiroshima constituency in the 2019 upper house contest. Mizote, former minister of state for disaster management, had sought to secure his sixth term in the chamber.
The offices of the Kawais were raided by the Hiroshima District Public Prosecutors Office on Jan. 15 on suspicion that Anri's campaign office paid daily allowances exceeding the legal limit in the July 2019 upper house race. The Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine reported on Jan. 23 that the LDP headquarters had remitted a total of 150 million yen to the party's branch offices headed by Anri and Katsuyuki Kawai, respectively, between April and June 2019 -- ahead of the upper house race.
Speaking to reporters in the Diet on Jan. 23, Anri admitted having received the funds. "There is no illegality, as I'm going to list the money in a political funding report," she said.
With regard to the huge sum, she said, "As it was after mid-April that the LDP branch (that I head) was set up and I started my political activities, the party had to expand its strength over a mere 2 1/2-month period (before the upper house poll). That's why the funds were intensively injected over a short span of time."
Based on records it has obtained, Shukan Bunshun reported that 75 million yen each was remitted to the LDP's Hiroshima Prefecture No. 7 upper house constituency, which Anri heads, and the party's Hiroshima Prefecture No. 3 constituency branch, headed by Katsuyuki, in several installments. Most of the funds remitted to Katsuyuki's branch were subsequently redirected to Anri's, according to the magazine's quoting of a source close to the investigation.
In Hiroshima, most LDP local assembly members rallied behind Mizote in the election as they objected to the party headquarters' fielding of Anri in defiance of the LDP prefectural chapter's policy. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga began campaigning for Anri even before the election was officially announced, and several secretaries from Prime Minister Abe's local office in Yamaguchi Prefecture also joined her campaign team.
Anri went on to win the race next to an opposition party candidate, while Mizote ended up in third place, leaving him without a seat.
According to a man who served as an aide to Mizote in the race, the LDP head office provided 5 million yen to cover official endorsement and 10 million yen in campaign funds to the party's Hiroshima Prefecture No. 2 upper house branch headed by Mizote before the campaign period kicked off.
A prefectural assembly member supporting Mizote recalled, "Anri's campaign team set up its office in the heart of the city and frequently posted campaign flyers. I was wondering why they were so heavily funded."
A member of the Hiroshima Municipal Assembly complained, "It's unfair that they had campaigned with 10 times the amount of funding."
(Japanese original by Shu Furukawa, Political News Department, and Isamu Gaari and Misa Koyama, Hiroshima Bureau)