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PM Abe apologizes after Japan ex-justice minister, wife indicted over vote buying

This combined photo shows lawmaker Anri Kawai, right, and her husband and former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued a public apology on July 8 after former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his wife, lawmaker Anri Kawai, were indicted earlier in the day over vote-buying charges dating to the House of Councillors election in summer 2019.

Speaking to a group of reporters at the Prime Minister's residence, Abe said, "As the person who appointed (Katsuyuki as) the justice minister, I am painfully aware of my responsibility, and wish to reaffirm my apology."

Amid growing suspicion that the Kawais used 150 million yen (about $1.4 million) provided to them by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s headquarters as a fund for bribery, the prime minister sought understanding, saying, "Although I know the use of the party's political funds is done so under strict rules, from now on we will go a step further to improve our response. As a political party, we must fulfill our responsibility to remain accountable."

But the government coalition's junior partner, Komeito, is demanding that both Katsuyuki and Anri resign their positions as members of the National Diet. For Prime Minister Abe, who supported Anri's bid for election, the recent events have had a destabilizing effect on his position.

Regarding the spending of the 150 million yen, the LDP has explained that the money was used for activities such as distributing leaflets in Hiroshima Prefecture in western Japan, and the party has tried to obtain understanding, saying, "A certified public accountant compares, based on strict standards, each party branch's expenditures after their use."

But because it is unknown exactly how the money was used in the case with the Kawais, a head of the party emphasized, "Only the individuals involved can explain how the money was spent." At the House of Representatives Cabinet Committee, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura was pursued on the issue by opposition parties, and responded, "He (Katsuyuki) is a member of the Cabinet, and has therefore accepted a serious level of responsibility. I would like him to fulfill his responsibility to account for himself." The Abe administration has in its frantic attempts to avoid damage put the onus to explain what has happened entirely on the Kawais.

But many individuals, including regional LDP lawmakers in the House of Representatives' Hiroshima electoral constituency, have accepted the money, and internally a mid-ranking party official is reported to have said that "the criticism will without a doubt become much worse." An individual with experience at Cabinet-level politics looked concerned as they told the Mainichi Shimbun, "If prefectural-level politicians and others were to quit in succession as the investigation proceeds, in a kind of 'resignation domino effect,' it would gradually affect the Cabinet's rate of support."

The government's coalition partner Komeito has shown increasing irritation over the unfavorable conditions that the LDP brought upon them. On July 8, Secretary General Tetsuo Saito, who was in charge of the House of Representatives Hiroshima electoral constituency, apologized as a person with responsibility at the party's Hiroshima Prefecture headquarters.

But he also pointed out that individuals, including the mayors of the prefectural cities of Mihara and Akitakata, who received some of the cash, have resigned. He then went on to push for the Kawais to resign, saying, "The responsibility for inciting distrust in politics is heavy. It merits resignation as a lawmaker. They should relieve themselves of their positions without waiting for the court's decision."

(Japanese original by Yusuke Kaite and Masahiro Tateno, Political News Department)

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