Panel seeks to indict 35 people over 2019 election

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A decision by the Tokyo No.6 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution is posted at the Tokyo District Court on Friday in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — A panel of citizens said Friday it has ruled that 35 people, including Hiroshima prefectural assembly members, should be indicted for receiving money in a high-profile vote-buying scandal involving the 2019 House of Councillors election.

Including the 35, a total of 100 people were accused of taking bribes in connection with the upper house poll in the prefecture in violation of the Public Offices Election Law, but the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office last year decided not to indict them.

In the ruling dated Dec. 23 last year, the Tokyo No. 6 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution said that 35 of the 100 people deserved indictment, contrary to the prosecutors’ decision. The prosecutors’ decision not to indict was “unjust” for 46 others and “just” for the remaining 19 people, the committee said.

The committee said those who received more than ¥100,000 in bribes and did not return the money or leave public office should be indicted, given the heavy responsibility they shoulder and the level of malice. Others should also be indicted if they received large amounts of money, the committee said.

It said that the prosecutors’ decision not to indict such people could give an impression that receiving bribes in elections does not amount to a serious law violation.

The 35 people received between ¥3 million and ¥100,000. They include 11 Hiroshima prefectural assembly members, 13 Hiroshima city assembly members, and six mayors and assembly members in other Hiroshima municipalities. Of them, 26 remain in office.

Former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, 58, and his wife, Anri, 48, have been convicted of giving a total of ¥28.7 million to the 100 people to buy votes for her in the July 2019 upper house election.

In July last year, the prosecutors office decided not to indict the 100 people, judging that they were in a “passive position” in the scandal and had low levels of malice, partly because Kawai’s side forcibly gave cash to them.

A group of citizens in Hiroshima Prefecture who were dissatisfied with the decision had applied to the committee for the inquest.

The prosecutors will reinvestigate the case and decide again whether to indict the people. If they escape indictment and the committee again rules that they should be indicted, they will be indicted compulsorily.