Ex-Squad Member Says, ‘I Crossed the Line’ to Get Confession in Kawai Bribery Case 

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The building that houses the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo

A former member of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office’s special investigation squad who questioned a local politician in connection to a massive bribery case involving former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai told The Yomiuri Shimbun that he “led the politician to testify in line with objective evidence while hinting that they would not be indicted.”

The local politician had received cash from Kawai in connection with a 2019 House of Councillors election.

Kawai, 61, provided about ¥29 million to 100 local politicians and others as bribes for them to help his wife, Anri Kawai, 50, get elected in the upper house.

After his wife was elected, the couple was arrested and indicted in 2020 for violating the Public Offices Election Law. They were later found guilty of bribery.

Prosecutors dropped their cases against all those who were bribed, but 34 received a summary indictment without arrest following a decision by a Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution.

The former member told The Yomiuri Shimbun that he was “working hard trying to get a confession” in line with what the special investigation squad wanted.

He said he feels remorseful about what happened and spoke about his interrogation of the local politician.

The squad began questioning more than 100 people, including local politicians, whose names appeared on a list seized in their investigation, on suspicion of violating the Public Offices Election Law.

In summer 2020, the former member said he and the local politician, who was being questioned on a voluntary basis, sat across a table from each other in a hotel room in Hiroshima.

The squad’s version of events was that “the former justice minister distributed bribe money to local politicians to get his wife elected.” Under this scenario, the investigation was nearing the point of arresting the couple.

To ensure the couple’s conviction, it was necessary to get details from those who were bribed, including details regarding how the money was given and statements that they had been “bribed.”

The local politician admitted to receiving cash, but they repeatedly said they couldn’t recall any details of the exchanges with Kawai.

The former member told The Yomiuri Shimbun, “I made sure I appeared composed, but deep down, I was feeling anxious, thinking, ‘If I don’t get a clear confession, I’ll be taken off the squad.’”

He said that he told the local politician that, in past cases, they did not prosecute those who cooperated with the investigation, and that he wanted their help in solidifying the evidence.

For the local politician, not being prosecuted would mean being able to maintain their status as a politician. When the politician asked, “Are you sure I won’t be prosecuted?” the former squad member said: “I want you to trust me. That’s how we’ve solved our cases up to now.”

As a result, a detailed confession was written up, and the local politician agreed to sign it.

“Since then, I’ve been blaming myself, thinking that I might have forced a confession,” he told The Yomiuri Shimbun. “I had crossed the line as a prosecutor.”

According to audio recordings obtained by The Yomiuri Shimbun, it has come to light that another prosecutor involved in the case had former Hiroshima City Assembly member Tsuneyasu Kido, 68, sign a confession admitting that he had received a bribe while suggesting that he would not be prosecuted.

The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office found the prosecutor’s remarks to be “inappropriate,” according to an internal investigation report released in December.

However, it denied giving instructions as an organization but pointed out that it was the problem of the individual prosecutor’s mindset.

“I was never ordered to suggest that they would not be prosecuted,” the former squad member said during the interview.

He added that the other prosecutors told him, “Those other than the Kawais would not be prosecuted anyway.”

“Every prosecutor felt a lot of pressure to [get a confession],” he said.