• Crime & Courts

Japan Prosecutors: Diet Member-Led Bribes Couldn’t Be Overlooked

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office special investigator removes materials from the office of lawmaker Mito Kakizawa in Koto Ward, Tokyo, on Nov. 16.

A case of alleged bribery involving a Diet member was “impossible to overlook,” a public prosecutor said.

The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office on Thursday arrested House of Representatives member Mito Kakizawa, 52, on suspicion of violating the Public Offices Election Law by giving cash to local politicians in Koto Ward, Tokyo, to help ensure victory for now former ward Mayor Yayoi Kimura, 58, in the April mayoral election.

“The Diet member is suspected of having roped in his entire office staff as part of an attempt to undermine election fairness — there’s no way this could have been brushed under the carpet,” the prosecutor said. “All those involved, including the secretaries, have repeatedly denied the allegations; it may be that we have to detain them.”

The prosecutors suspect that Kakizawa and others bribed a wide range of election officials, including ward assembly members and senior members in Kimura’s camp, to help ensure her election.

The alleged bribes are thought to have totaled ¥2 million, but the funds involved could be as high as ¥3.36 million if declined bribes and cash independently provided by Kakizawa’s secretaries were to be included.

Prosecutors generally agree that prison terms must be sought in cases involving bribes of ¥1 million or more. One veteran prosecutor said Kakizawa’s case “meets the criteria for pursuing criminal responsibility.”

The investigation began after information came to light regarding possible illegality related to paid internet ads posted by Kimura’s camp. The prosecutors discovered the details of the case after interviewing secretaries and ward assembly members, confirming suspicions that Kakizawa had distributed cash to ward assembly members via his secretaries and others; provided cash to staff members; and offered money to Kimura’s camp’s leaders in the form of “advisory fees,” following the election. Kakizawa and the four secretaries were subsequently arrested based on the prosecutors’ findings.

‘Gesture of support’

The arrested individuals have denied all the allegations, and the focus of the investigation will now be on whether the prosecutors can prove their case.

In a letter sent to Kimura’s supporters prior to the arrests, Kakizawa denied any intention to bribe the ward assembly members, saying the cash was intended as “a gesture of support to a Liberal Democratic Party-endorsed candidate for the ward assembly election.” Kakizawa also said he had merely aimed “to cultivate the ground to strengthen [my own] support base” for the next lower house election.

Kakizawa and his secretaries are reportedly steeling themselves for the battle ahead, but the investigators are said to be confident of proving the bribery allegations. This confidence likely stems from the handling of a vote-buying scandal involving former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai in connection with the 2019 House of Councillors election.

Kawai, too, had initially denied bribing local politicians, claiming the money was “a gesture of support.”

The Tokyo District Court, however, ruled the cash to be “bribe money” based on such factors as Kawai’s wife having stood against a same-party candidate, the involvement of large amounts of cash, and the timing of the payments — which allegedly were provided before and after the election.

The court concluded that even if the money was aimed at “strengthening the support base,” its effect was undeniable — bribery.

Kakizawa’s case echoes certain aspects of Kawai’s, including the election and the timing of the financial provisions. A senior prosecutor said, “Based on objective facts, we can prove that there was an intention to provide bribes.”

In Kawai’s case, a public prosecutor is suspected of having induced testimony from a local politician in exchange for non-indictment, with the politician signing a written statement acknowledging the money had been a bribe. The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office announced the results of its investigation Monday, calling the method “inappropriate.”

“The special investigation squad should keep in mind that investigations to force confessions are unnecessary,” said Hisashi Sonoda, professor emeritus of Konan University, a criminal law specialist. “It’s important to accumulate objective circumstantial evidence so intentions can be reliably inferred.”