TOKYO • A close adviser of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who he handpicked to become justice minister, was yesterday arrested on vote-buying charges.
This marks a stunning political downfall for Katsuyuki Kawai, 57, who once also served as Mr Abe's special foreign policy adviser. He was named as justice minister in a Cabinet reshuffle last September, before resigning after holding the post for just one month.
Kawai's wife Anri, 46, was also arrested, with the couple accused of paying 25 million yen (S$325,500) in cash to about 100 assembly members in a Hiroshima constituency leading up to last year's Upper House election.
Mr Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga had personally stumped for Anri at the election, which she won handily.
The arrests add pressure on Mr Abe, who apologised and said he was "keenly aware of his responsibility" in appointing Kawai at a scheduled news conference yesterday to wrap up the 150-day regular parliamentary session.
The Kawais have resigned from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), as Mr Abe's support has tanked over a series of missteps in a year where the Premier was looking forward to crystallise his legacy with the Olympic Games and a bid to amend the pacifist Constitution, both now put off until next year. His ratings have sunk below 30 per cent in several polls over a series of political scandals and perceived blunders.
Former trade minister Isshu Sugawara, 58, is being questioned by prosecutors over suspicions that his office had offered money and gifts to supporters.
Meanwhile, the brouhaha over a plan to allow prosecutors to stay beyond the mandatory retirement age of 63 at the government's discretion has yet to quieten down.
Mr Hiromu Kurokawa, who is close to Mr Abe and was set to be the first beneficiary of the planned extension, however resigned in ignominy as chief of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office after he played mahjong for money during the state of emergency, breaching social distancing guidelines.
Mr Abe has been slammed for the belated closure of borders as well as the much-ridiculed "Abenomask" face mask distribution programme in which some masks were found to be riddled with hair, or were too small. A pledge to give 100,000 yen to every resident has met a bureaucratic logjam, while small businesses decried the initial hesitation to help them with funds.
It points to a rough road ahead for Mr Abe, due to step down as LDP chief in September next year.