Sunday, May 16, 2021

Japan’s ex-Justice Minister Kawai pleads guilty to giving bribes

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Former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai announced his resignation as a lawmaker Tuesday after pleading guilty at a Tokyo court to vote-buying in a bid to secure a seat for his wife in a 2019 Upper House election.

Kawai, a House of Representatives member, allegedly violated the election law by handing out cash to politicians and supporters in Hiroshima Prefecture to reward them for votes secured in the campaign to get his wife, Anri Kawai, elected in July 2019.

During questioning by prosecutors at the Tokyo District Court, Katsuyuki Kawai, 58, said, “By and large, I will not fight the vote-buying charge,” making an about-face from previous court hearings in which he had pleaded not guilty.

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“I cannot deny that I had a desire to get Anri elected,” he added and expressed his intention to quit as a lawmaker, saying, “I will take all the blame.”

According to the indictment, Katsuyuki Kawai handed out a total of about ¥29 million ($266,000) to 100 local politicians and supporters in return for securing votes for his wife in the 2019 House of Councilors election.

However, Katsuyuki Kawai denied Tuesday that he had conspired with his 47-year-old wife, although she was convicted in January of conspiring with her husband and sentenced to 16 months in prison, suspended for five years. Anri Kawai resigned as an Upper House member in February.

The former minister also denied some of the charges, saying money he gave to campaign staff was not intended to secure votes for his wife.

Katsuyuki Kawai said he had continued to plead not guilty “to protect the dignity of my wife and supporters.” But he said he changed his mind after seeing his supporters testify in court.

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By February, 94 of the 100 people who allegedly received cash from Katsuyuki Kawai had said they understood the money was intended for vote-buying.

Katsuyuki Kawai apologized several times in court, saying, “I have taken actions that undermine (public) trust in elections.”

He was released on ¥50 million bail on March 3 after his defense team filed a fifth request for his release.

The Kawais were arrested last June. Both of them left the ruling Liberal Democratic Party shortly before their arrest.

The couple’s arrest shed light on the LDP headquarters’ provision of ¥150 million, an unusually large sum, to Kawai’s camp, which was backed by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and other heavyweight LDP politicians.

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