Prosecutors on Tuesday dropped a bribery case against all 100 individuals including local assembly members who allegedly received cash from former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai in a high-profile vote-buying scandal.
The decision is highly unusual in a case where the bribery suspect has pleaded guilty and many of the alleged bribe takers have admitted to receiving money.
The suspected recipients are local assembly members and supporters in the constituency of Kawai’s wife Anri, a former Upper House lawmaker. Kawai had said in a court hearing he sought their support to get his wife elected from Hiroshima Prefecture in the 2019 Upper House election.
The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors’ Office concluded the recipients had no malicious intent on their part, saying that they were forced to take the money even if they refused or it was difficult for them to send away the then-Lower House lawmaker and senior member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, according to people familiar with the matter.
Kawai, 58, was sentenced in June to three years in prison and a forfeiture of ¥1.3 million ($12,000) by the Tokyo District Court for handing out a total of ¥28.7 million. The defense appealed the ruling, having sought a suspended sentence on the grounds that Kawai had admitted to most of the charges and resigned as a lawmaker.
The maximum handout was ¥3 million, according to the ruling.
During the hearing, 94 of the 100 individuals had admitted to bribery and some said they had returned the money.
The 100 recipients were probed after a civic group in Hiroshima filed a complaint as they were not charged along with the former minister and his wife.
Anri Kawai, 47, was sentenced in January to 16 months in prison, suspended for five years, for conspiring with her husband and handing out ¥1.6 million in total to four Hiroshima prefectural assembly members.
Anri Kawai’s campaign was supported by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, now prime minister, and other senior LDP lawmakers.
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