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Japan ex-justice minister, wife to be indicted over election scandal

Katsuyuki Kawai, right, and his wife Anri Kawai take the stage during a political fundraising party in Hiroshima, on Sept. 23, 2019. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Prosecutors will indict former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his lawmaker wife Anri on Wednesday on charges of violating the election law by buying votes for the latter's election campaign last summer, sources familiar with the matter said Tuesday.

Kawai, a House of Representatives member known for having had close ties with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was arrested in June on suspicion of giving 25.7 million yen ($240,000) to 94 local politicians and supporters in Hiroshima Prefecture to reward them for their efforts to secure votes for his wife in the upper house election last July.

Anri Kawai, 46, a member of the House of Councillors, was arrested with her 57-year-old husband on suspicion of conspiring with him in some of the cash handouts -- 1.7 million yen for five out of the 94 individuals.

In the indictment, however, Tokyo prosecutors are expected to increase the total sum of money spent for the purpose of securing votes to more than 29 million yen, according to the sources.

The prosecutors are expected to identify Kawai as the person in charge of the entire election campaign based on the Public Offices Election Law.

The two are likely to receive court rulings within 100 days of their indictment Wednesday, the last day of their period of pre-indictment detention, the sources said. For trials involving election crimes, the law urges courts to swiftly deliver rulings, typically within 100 days.

Tokyo and Hiroshima prosecutors have seized documents, believed to be lists of cash distributions of around 30 million yen in total, from Kawai's home and elsewhere.

Kawai has admitted to giving out cash to some people but denied any intention to buy votes, according to investigative sources.

With Anri denying her involvement in any illegal activities as well, the two are expected to deny the charges against them in court.

Under the election law, those guilty of election bribery face a prison term of up to three years or a fine of up to 500,000 yen. If candidates themselves or chief campaign managers are convicted, they will face harsher penalties -- a maximum of a four-year prison term or a fine of up to 1 million yen.

If the Kawais are found guilty, they will lose their eligibility for election and their posts as lawmakers.

If Kawai is found guilty as the person in charge of his wife's campaign, the result of last July's election of Anri will be annulled regardless of her own involvement.

There have been several cases involving indictments of incumbent Japanese lawmakers in recent years.

In January, Tsukasa Akimoto, a former Liberal Democratic Party member who led efforts for the introduction of casinos in Japan, was indicted on a charge of taking a bribe from a Chinese gambling company that had sought to launch a casino business in Japan.

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