TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s former justice minister and the minister’s lawmaker wife were arrested Thursday over allegations they engaged in vote buying during last year’s election, officials and local media said.

The Tokyo Public Prosecutors Office said it arrested the former minister, Katsuyuki Kawai, and his wife, Anri Kawai, though it did not immediately give a reason.

Local media including Kyodo News reported the arrest was over allegations that the couple offered millions of yen in cash to dozens of voters ahead of the 2019 upper house election in which Anri Kawai won a seat.

The couple has denied any wrongdoing.

Katsuyuki Kawai served as justice minister for only a month from last September, resigning when the allegations surfaced but has remained as lawmaker. Their arrest came a day after the parliamentary session ended, when both no longer had immunity.

While the couple left Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party earlier this week, there are still questions about whether party election funds were used in the alleged vote-buying.

The couple’s arrest comes as Abe’s government is already facing public criticism over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating economic impact.


Abe now faces opposition demands for explanation for his appointment of Katsuyuki Kawaii as justice minister.

Abe said Thursday that he regretted the arrest of the lawmakers and said he takes the public criticism seriously.

(asterisk)The arrest of the incumbent lawmakers who belonged to our party is extremely regrettable,” Abe said in his opening remarks at a news conference Thursday marking the end of the parliamentary session.

“As a person who appointed (Kawai) as justice minister, I feel responsible,” he said. “We lawmakers have to straighten ourselves up.”