Japan Court Recognizes Prosecutors Didn’t Intend to Indict Suspect to Induce Testimony in High-Profile Vote-Buying Case

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tsuneyasu Kido, left, speaks at a press conference in Hiroshima after the Hiroshima District Court ruled against him on Thursday.

The Hiroshima District Court on Thursday recognized that prosecutors induced the testimony of a local assembly member in exchange for leniency during their investigation into a high-profile vote-buying case concerning the 2019 House of Councillors election.

The ruling marked the second time for a court to find problems with prosecutors’ investigation of the case.

Former Hiroshima municipal assembly member Tsuneyasu Kido was charged with violating the Public Offices Election Law by receiving cash from former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai to help gather votes for his wife, Anri.

Kido, 68, requested a dismissal of the case against him.

In the ruling against Kido, presiding Judge Yuki Goto mentioned the probe conducted by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office’s special investigation squad, saying, “It’s undeniable that prosecutors investigated Kido on the assumption that they wouldn’t indict him, and that Kido gave statements that met prosecutors’ expectations with regard to having charges against him dropped.”

Sixty-year-old Kawai’s prison sentence has already been finalized. As for Kido’s criminal responsibility, the court found him guilty based on objective evidence.

Audio recordings obtained by The Yomiuri Shimbun revealed that prosecutors in charge of investigating Kido, 68, induced him to sign a written statement by suggesting that he would not be indicted if he did so.

In the trial, the defense side argued that Kido had been unaware of being bribed and asked for the prosecution to be dismissed, claiming Kido had been indicted based on an illegal investigation. During questioning, Kido said the prosecutor had told him that he wanted him to keep working as an assembly member. “I trusted the prosecutor and signed the written statement,” Kido said.

The defense side further contended that a different prosecutor had induced Kido to change parts of his statement that were inconvenient to the prosecution in a pre-trial rehearsal for examining witnesses related to Kawai’s trial.

The ruling also flagged the possibility that prosecutors may have interrogated Kido based on the premise that he would not be indicted, and that Kido might have confessed in anticipation of avoiding charges. In light of these circumstances, the court said, “It’s undeniable that the defendant testified to the court in line with prosecutors’ wishes.”

However, the recordings — viewed by the defense as a cornerstone in proving the illegality of the investigation — were not accepted as evidence, because the prosecution side did not ask for permission to use the written statement as evidence. As such, the court did not mention the details of the statement and testimony.

In light of these circumstances, the court thus conceded — based on objective evidence — the facts of the indictment that Kido had received ¥300,000 in cash from Kawai in April 2019 as remuneration for helping Anri Kawai get elected to the House of Councillors.

The court also ruled that Kido had known that the money was meant as remuneration for election cooperation, and ordered him to pay ¥150,000 in fines and a surcharge of ¥300,000, as demanded by the prosecutors. Anri, 50, was found guilty.

The court rejected the request for the prosecution’s case to be dismissed, in light of the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution’s conclusion that the defendant should be indicted. “The level of illegality is not severe enough to dismiss the prosecution,” the court said.

In the vote-buying case, several local politicians accused of receiving money have alleged instances of investigative illegality during their trials.

In a separate ruling against another municipal assembly member in August, Presiding Judge Goto said, “It’s undeniable that prosecutors interrogated the defendant based on the assumption that they wouldn’t indict him.”