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More Japan politicians admit accepting cash from ex-justice minister, but few resign

Hiroshi Kodama, mayor of Akitakata, Hiroshima Prefecture, is seen bowing at a press conference in the city on June 26, 2020. (Mainichi/Ryoichi Mochizuki)

While more and more politicians are admitting to accepting money in a vote-buying scandal involving husband-and-wife Japanese lawmakers Katsuyuki and Anri Kawai, many are sticking to a policy of "no comment." With two mayors already having resigned or having indicated their intention to resign, shockwaves are running throughout the couple's constituencies in Hiroshima Prefecture in western Japan.

Katsuyuki is a former justice minister who is a lawmaker in the House of Representatives, and Anri is a legislator in the House of Councillors. Both were members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), but left the party before they were arrested on suspicion of violating the Public Offices Election Law.

The couple was arrested specifically on suspicion of handing out cash to 40 politicians in Hiroshima Prefecture, 21 of whom have told the Mainichi Shimbun that they accepted money from the couple.

Hiroshi Kodama, the mayor of the Hiroshima Prefecture city of Akitakata, received 600,000 yen (approx. $5,600) from Katsuyuki. Kodama appeared at a June 26 press conference with a shaved head and said, "I have worried many people. I sincerely apologize." As for whether he was going to stay at his post, he told reporters, "I will decide after hearing the voices of my support association and city residents."

About his shaved head, he said, "I thought that I must first show that I am remorseful, and decided to change my hairstyle." It is a Japanese tradition to shave one's head to show remorse or regret, particularly among men.

Kazuyuki Sakikawa, the speaker of the Akitakata Municipal Assembly; Shingo Mito, the assembly's vice speaker; and assembly member Toshiharu Aohara all held news conferences to reveal that they had accepted cash from Katsuyuki.

Sakikawa and Mito each met with Katsuyuki in the assembly speaker's office and the assembly vice speaker's office, respectively, in late March of 2019, where they received the money. Mito said he was told, "Please help us out."

Aohara, meanwhile, met Katsuyuki in early June of the same year when Katsuyuki visited him at home. He was given posters and flyers, along with an envelope. When prosecutors pointed out that there had been 100,000 yen (approx. $930) in the envelope, Aohara says he admitted it and signed a statement. He has explained, "I burned the envelope after the election, so I don't know any details."

Hiroshima Municipal Assembly members Osamu Taniguchi and Masaaki Okimune admitted in front of the media on June 26 that they, too, had accepted money from the Kawais. Okimune told a press conference that he accepted a total of 500,000 yen (approx. $4,700) on two different occasions from Katsuyuki. The first time was in April 2019, after he won a seat in the municipal assembly. Katsuyuki congratulated Okimune on the electoral victory at the latter's office and gave him 300,000 yen (approx. $2,800). The second time was in June, when Katsuyuki visited Okimune at home and said, "Please help out my wife." Katsuyuki left 200,000 yen (approx. $1,900) in cash at the house.

Admitting that he wrote 3,000 postcards asking his acquaintances to vote for Anri in the 2019 upper house election, Okimune said, "I thought that if I returned the money, I would cause (Katsuyuki Kawai) to lose face. I used the money for day-to-day expenses." He added, "I felt like I should explain myself someday, but I'd been stopped from doing so by prosecutors. If I'm indicted, I'll resign."

Taniguchi, meanwhile, admitted that he received 500,000 yen from Katsuyuki, but claimed that it was to apologize for some problems that he had had with the former justice minister. "Vote buying was not the purpose," he emphasized.

On June 26, many reporters gathered at the Hiroshima Prefectural Assembly building. One male prefectural assembly member repeatedly said "no comment," as he had been doing all along. More than a few assembly members turned their backs on reporters and went inside without a word.

Shinji Kosaka, until recently the mayor of the Hiroshima Prefecture town of Akiota, resigned for having accepted 200,000 yen from Katsuyuki. Former prefectural assembly speaker and assembly member Nobuya Okuhara, who has admitted to having accepted 2 million yen (approx. $18,700), is deliberating whether to resign.

(Japanese original by Akari Terouchi, Hiroshima Bureau; Kazuki Iwamoto, Okayama Bureau; and Yuta Shibayama, Osaka City News Department)

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