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Japan’s Former Justice Minister, Wife Arrested on Allegations of Vote-buying

FILE - Japan's Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai speaks during a press conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo.

Prosecutors in Tokyo say former Japanese Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, and his wife, Anri Kawai, were arrested Thursday over allegations they engaged in vote buying during last year's election.

In a statement, Tokyo prosecutors said the couple paid about $15,900 to five people last year to get her elected in the 2019 upper house election, in which she won a seat.

Katsuyuki Kawai, a close political ally of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, served as justice minister for only a month last year, resigning in October when vote buying allegations first surfaced. He had previously served as a foreign policy adviser to Abe. Both Kawaiis have denied the allegations to Japanese media.

At a news conference Thursday, Abe offered an apology regarding the arrests, saying “it is very regrettable that the incumbent lawmakers (ex-Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his wife Anri Kawai), who used to belong to our party, were arrested today. I'm keenly aware of my responsibility as I once appointed him (Katsuyuki Kawai) Justice Minister. "

Observers see the arrests as blow for Abe as his support among voters was already declining because of what is seen as his clumsy handling of the COVID pandemic, among other domestic issues.