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Prosecutors to indict 34 local politicians, others in Hiroshima vote-buying scandal

Katsuyuki Kawai, left, and Anri Kawai (Mainichi)

In a reversal of an earlier decision over a massive vote-buying scandal involving former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his ex-lawmaker wife Anri, prosecutors are apparently set to indict 34 local politicians and others who accepted cash from the couple, after a citizens' prosecution inquest panel decided their indictment is appropriate, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

    Katsuyuki and Anri Kawai have been found guilty of violating the Public Offices Election Act, and have been handed a prison sentence and a suspended sentence, respectively.

    The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office's special investigative unit in July 2021 chose not to indict any of the 100 individuals who took money ahead of the July 2019 House of Councillors election, in which Anri Kawai was elected from the Hiroshima constituency. However, a citizens group filed a complaint against prosecutors' decision, and the Tokyo No. 6 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution announced in January 2022 that indictment was appropriate for 35 of the 100 individuals. The committee additionally deemed it unjust not to have indicted 46 others.

    In response, the Tokyo prosecutors' special investigation unit opened a reinvestigation into those 81 individuals.

    On March 4, the investigation unit informed the citizens group that it had referred cases on 34 of the 35 people to the Hiroshima District Public Prosecutors Office. It is expected that the Hiroshima office will indict the 34 individuals, including Hiroshima Prefectural Assembly members, in the near future.

    According to concerned parties, of the 35 people whom the prosecution inquest panel found to deserve indictment, most have admitted to the charges. Some other local assembly members denied the accusations despite earlier admitting to them during the initial phase of the investigation.

    According to the plaintiffs, of the 34 people whose cases have been referred to the Hiroshima prosecutors' office, six are incumbent Hiroshima Prefectural Assembly members and 10 are Hiroshima Municipal Assembly members, while seven others include former Hiroshima prefectural and municipal assembly members who stepped down after the inquest panel's decision.

    Under Japan's Code of Criminal Procedure, the court that has jurisdiction over a location of a crime or the residence or location of the defendant takes charge of the case. The Hiroshima prosecutors' office is expected to summarily indict most of those who have admitted to the charges, while indicting others who are denying the charges without arrest. If a fine or a heavier sentence is finalized, they will have their civil rights suspended and the incumbent assembly members will lose their seats in accordance with the Public Offices Election Act.

    One Hiroshima Municipal Assembly member was not referred to the Hiroshima prosecutors' office despite the inquest panel's decision that they deserved indictment. It is thought that this decision came in light of the individual's health issues, which would make it difficult for them to stand trial.

    Meanwhile, cases over the 46 people whose non-indictment was deemed unjust by the inquest panel have not been transferred to the Hiroshima prosecution office. It is highly likely that the Tokyo office will once again decide not to indict them.

    According to finalized court rulings, the 100 individuals accused in the vote-buying scandal received a total of some 28.7 million yen (about $250,000) between March and August 2019 in return for organizing votes for Anri Kawai. The amount received by each of those individuals ranged from 50,000 yen (roughly $430) to 3 million yen (approx. $26,000).

    (Japanese original by Kazuya Shimura and Ai Kunimoto, Tokyo City News Department, and Akihiro Nakajima, Hiroshima Bureau)

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