Japanese Ex-Justice Minister Indicted For Vote-Buying, NHK Says

Tokyo prosecutors indicted a former justice minister and his lawmaker wife on vote-buying allegations Wednesday, public broadcaster NHK said, in a scandal that has tarnished the image of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Katsuyuki Kawai and his wife Anri Kawai were accused of distributing as much as 29 million yen ($270,000) to local politicians and potential voters during Anri Kawai’s successful first campaign for an upper house seat last July, NHK said. Katsuyuki Kawai resigned following a brief stint as Justice Minister last year, when the allegations first came to light.

Prosecutors were expected to release a statement on the case Wednesday. Telephone calls to the offices of both lawmakers were not answered.

Anri Kawai has confirmed that she received an unusually large subsidy of 150 million yen ($1.4 million) from Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party ahead of her election. She and her husband have both denied breaking the law, but resigned from the party, while remaining lawmakers.

Abe, Japan’s longest-serving premier, has seen his support rate fall to its lowest in years in some recent polls. Voters have criticized him for his response to the virus pandemic, which many have seen as, at times, being slow and haphazard.

A poll carried by network JNN July 4-5 found 38.2% of respondents supported Abe, compared with 59.8% who said they did not. About 90% said Kawai and his wife should resign as lawmakers, while 87% said the size of the subsidy they received from the party was unacceptable.

Though Abe has said he bears responsibility for appointing Katsuyuki Kawai, he has shrugged off previous scandals since taking office for the second time in 2012. His cabinet survived the simultaneous resignations of two cabinet ministers in 2014 and Abe went on to win a general election two months later.

He also benefits from a splintered opposition -- even the largest groups have support rates in the single digits.

With Abe’s support fading and the end of his term as leader just over a year away, rivals are increasingly jostling for position. The indictments could bolster Shigeru Ishiba, the public’s favored successor, who has distanced himself from the Abe government.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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