Photo/IllutrationAnri Kawai, an Upper House member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, center, attends the Upper House plenary session on Jan. 23. (Takeshi Iwashita)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Anri Kawai, a lawmaker suspected of election law violations, received 150 million yen ($1.37 million) from the Liberal Democratic Party for her election campaign last summer, a revelation that stunned both ruling and opposition politicians.

“I believe they were not illegal transactions,” Kawai, an Upper House member representing the Hiroshima prefectural district, said on Jan. 23.

She confirmed the LDP headquarters’ money transfers, which were reported in the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun’s edition published earlier that day.

Kawai won her Diet seat in the Upper House election held in July. A few months later, she came under suspicion of wrongdoing in her campaign.

An aide to Kawai has admitted to paying campaign staff members twice the limit prescribed under the Public Offices Election Law, and that he was aware that doing so was illegal, according to investigative sources.

Kawai’s husband, Katsuyuki, stepped down as justice minister in October after the scandal surfaced. He is still a Lower House member from the LDP representing a Hiroshima electoral district.

Investigators at the Hiroshima District Public Prosecutors Office have searched the couple’s residence, offices and other related places.

Seven candidates battled for two seats in the Hiroshima prefectural district in the Upper House election last year.

The LDP fielded two of the candidates: newcomer Kawai and Kensei Mizote, an incumbent who was seeking his sixth term.

The party transferred the money in multiple installments to the accounts of two local LDP branch offices, each headed by Kawai and Katsuyuki, before official campaigning started for the Upper House election, according to the magazine’s article.

An incumbent backed by opposition parties, such as the Democratic Party for the People and Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), finished the election on top and retained his seat.

Kawai came in second to secure her place in the Diet.

Mizote placed third and lost his Upper House seat.

News about the 150 million yen transferred for Kawai’s campaign surprised ruling and opposition party lawmakers because it is an unusually high amount from the LDP headquarters and was 10 times more than what Mizote, a former chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, received from the party.

The Kawais are believed to have close ties to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

“We urge the prime minister to explain the matter at the Budget Committee, including the fact that (Anri) Kawai has been accused of breaking the Public Offices Election Law,” Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary-general of the CDP, told reporters.

Kawai said her campaign efforts entered full-scale mode in mid-April 2019, when unified local elections were held nationwide.

“We had only two and a half months (until the Upper House election), and that is why the fund transfers were concentrated in a short period,” she said. “I will describe this issue and the transfers in income and expenditure reports on political funds (that will be submitted later).”

Katsuyuki also answered questions from reporters, but he just repeated that his wife has already summed up the issue in her explanation.

According to an official at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the current law regulating political funds allows a political party’s headquarters to pay “donations and subsidies” that are related to political activities to the accounts of its local branch offices. The law does not set a ceiling on such money transfers.

“Politicians are required to describe the transactions in income and expenditure reports on political funds,” the official said. “They will be subjected to punishment if they don’t.”

The offices of both Kawai and Katsuyuki issued a statement that said, “We have handled political funds properly in accordance with the law.”