Japan’s former Justice Minister and his wife were arrested on Thursday for allegedly handing out money to politicians and supporters to secure votes during campaigning for the 2019 Upper House elections.
Prosecutors suspect 57-year-old Katsuyuki Kawai, a Lower House representative, and his wife, 46-year-old Upper House member Anri, violated election laws through the buying of votes during last July’s elections, in which Anri won a seat, reports Efe news.
The arrest came a day after the end of the ordinary session of the Diet, the Japanese parliament. Lawmakers have immunity from arrest while parliament is in session.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, to which both belonged, accepted the resignation of the couple, who said they intended to remain members of the Diet.
The case is a blow to Abe at a time of waning popularity, given his ties to Kawai, who was his foreign policy adviser before briefly serving as justice minister last year.
According to the prosecution’s investigation, Kawai and his wife allegedly handed out more than 25 million yen ($234,000) of campaign funds to about 100 people to secure votes, according to local media reports.
Most of the 100 people who were questioned by prosecutors admitted to having received the money.
However, during their voluntary interrogations, the couple has denied allegations of vote buying.
The prosecution believes Kawai orchestrated the campaign on behalf of his wife and offered money to supporters of the couple and prefectural and city assembly members in their constituencies in Hiroshima Prefecture, as well as local government chiefs.
The former Justice Minister publicly apologized on Wednesday for causing trouble for the concerned parties but denied having carried out any illegal political activity.
His wife Anri declined to comment, on the advice of her lawyer.
On Tuesday, Anri’s secretary was sentenced to 18 months in prison, suspended for five years, for illegally paying election campaigners.