Photo/Illutration Former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, left, and his wife, Anri, an Upper House member (Kotaro Ebara, Hikaru Uchida)

A former justice minister and his lawmaker wife were arrested on June 18 on suspicion of handing out money to buy votes in her successful campaign in the 2019 Upper House election.

Prosecutors on June 18 asked Lower House member Katsuyuki Kawai, 57, and his wife, Anri, 46, an Upper House member, to appear for questioning, sources said. The arrests were made based on a warrant requested by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office for the couple on the same day.

Lawmakers cannot be arrested when the Diet is in session. But the current session ended on June 17.

Investigators have been looking into allegations that the couple distributed about 26 million yen ($243,000) to 100 prefectural and city assembly members and others in Hiroshima Prefecture in a bid to secure votes for Anri, who won her first seat in the Diet in the 2019 election.

Both lawmakers have denied any wrongdoing during questioning by prosecutors on a voluntary basis.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party on June 17 formally approved the Kawais’ request to leave the party.

The Kawais are close associates of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

Katsuyuki was appointed as justice minister by Abe during a September 2019 Cabinet reshuffle, but he stepped down after about a month because of weekly magazine reports alleging possible campaign violations by Anri’s staff.

A policy aide to Anri was found guilty on June 16 of violating the Public Offices Election Law by paying more than double the legal amount to staff who rode in campaign cars and shouted out the candidate’s name.

During the investigation into the aide, prosecutors found a list of names of local assembly members who were given money by the Kawais to help round up votes for Anri in the election.

Prosecutors have questioned those local assembly members, and many said they clearly knew what the money they received was intended for, sources said.

Investigative sources said that after Anri announced in March 2019 that she planned to run in the summer Upper House election, Katsuyuki provided cash payments to about 95 Hiroshima assembly members and others. The total amount given was about 24 million yen.

Anri herself is also suspected of giving five individuals a total of 1.5 million yen.

Investigators believe that Katsuyuki played a central role in the distribution of the cash because he was in charge of Anri’s campaign.

Katsuyuki has won seven terms in the Lower House from a Hiroshima Prefecture district.

A Hiroshima prefectural assembly election was held in April 2019, and some of those who received cash from Katsuyuki were told the money was in relation to their own elections.

But all those who received the money were also asked to support Anri in the Upper House election.

Prosecutors reached the conclusion that the distribution of money to a wide range of individuals and the large amount involved was an organized attempt to buy votes for Anri, a violation of the Public Offices Election Law.