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Editorial: Inquest's call for Japan vote-buying prosecutions needs clear response

Of the 100 people who accepted cash in the vote-buying scandal involving ex-Minister of Justice Katsuyuki Kawai and his wife, former House of Councillors member Anri Kawai, 35 individuals including Hiroshima Prefectural Assembly members should be indicted, a committee for the inquest of prosecution has decided.

    Katsuyuki and Anri Kawai have been found guilty, and handed a prison sentence and a suspended sentence respectively. Conversely, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office's special investigative unit chose not to indict any of the individuals who took money in the case.

    The case's handling differs from that in previous instances of illegal electoral activity, and it was not resolved in a way satisfactory to the public. The inquest committee's judgment reflects public sentiment.

    Regarding vote-buying, the Public Offices Election Act stipulates that the individuals handing over money or other goods and the parties receiving them are both punishable by law, and there is no difference in the penalties. This is because both sides damage the integrity of elections, and their actions shake the very foundations of democratic politics.

    The committee's decision asserts, "The conclusion not to punish recipients at all leads us to fear that serious illegal acts are being deliberately overlooked."

    Among those the committee has said should be prosecuted are figures who have not resigned as regional assembly members or leaders even after the incident, as well as people who accepted large cash amounts. It concluded that it was unjust not to have indicted the 46 people who took responses including resigning, and that the 19 people who immediately returned the funds -- among other actions -- did not deserve to be prosecuted.

    The committee can force the indictment of the 35 people it named even if the special investigative unit again chooses not to press charges. The special investigation unit reportedly did not pursue cases againt them initially because the recipients were "all passive actors." It explained that "it would have been inappropriate to choose whom to indict and whom not to."

    But that people involved in elections cannot hand over or accept cash is the most fundamental of rules.

    As with the committee's decision, shouldn't a judgment on the weight of individuals' responsibility have been made in accordance with each of their positions and circumstances?

    The decision not to prosecute came after judicial rulings on the Kawais. The couple initially maintained their innocence, and testimony from people who received the funds was crucial at trial. There are concerns that a deal might have been done between them and prosecutors.

    The special investigative unit must seriously reflect on the committee's decision. The results of a reinvestigation must offer a clear explanation that includes the circumstances that produced them.

    It also remains to be seen if the people who took the money can clean up their acts. The assembly members who have stayed in their positions should take responsibility for their own actions. The Hiroshima Prefectural Assembly only issued written warnings over the case. The recipients must once again be made aware of the seriousness of this incident.

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