TOKYO, June 18 — Japanese prosecutors today arrested the country’s former justice minister — a close ally of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — and his lawmaker wife over allegations of vote-buying during her electoral campaign last year.
The scandal is the latest headache for Abe, who has seen his approval ratings sink over his handling of the coronavirus crisis and faced criticism over alleged attempts to name a favoured candidate to the role of prosecutor general.
Katsuyuki Kawai resigned as justice minister in October after a separate scandal involving his wife Anri’s election campaign, and the pair is accused of offering local politicians and others money to help secure a seat in the upper house.
Kawai, 57, and his wife, 46, have both resigned from Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, but reportedly plan to keep their seats in parliament.
They have reportedly denied the allegations, which include claims the former minister distributed a total of ¥24 million (US$225,000) to 91 people to help secure his wife’s seat, while the couple handed out ¥1.7 million to five campaigners.
Abe said the arrest was “very regrettable” and he felt responsible for appointing Kawai as justice minister.
“I deeply apologise,” Abe told a nationally televised news conference.
Abe said he would offer a full explanation to the country about the scandal, but did not mention any possibility of his own resignation.
Despite Japan’s relatively low death toll from coronavirus — 935 deaths have been confirmed so far — Abe has been criticised for an embarrassing u-turn on stimulus funds and ridiculed for a programme distributing masks nationwide.
He has also come under fire for his efforts to change the retirement age of prosecutors, viewed as an attempt to keep on a favoured top prosecutor and promote him.
The bid ended when the prosecutor was forced to resign following revelations he had defied coronavirus lockdown guidelines and gambled on mahjong games with journalists. — AFP