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Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010
Mr. Ozawa on the ropes
The Tokyo No. 5 Prosecution Inquest Committee, an independent judicial panel composed of 11 citizens, on Monday said former Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa should be indicted for having his Rikuzankai political funds management body make allegedly false reports in 2004 and 2005. The decision could bring down the political heavyweight and change the shape of Japan's politics that Mr. Ozawa has influenced for some 20 years.
The indictment followed a second decision by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office's special investigation squad not to indict Mr. Ozawa for lack of evidence, following a new round of investigation prompted by the same inquest panel's initial decision in April that Mr. Ozawa merited indictment. Under a May 2009 revision of the prosecution inquest law, if at least eight members of a judiciary panel call for indictment a second time, a court-appointed lawyer will serve as a prosecutor and indict the person in question. Mr. Ozawa is the first politician to be indicted under the review system.
Legally Mr. Ozawa is innocent at least until the court hands down a ruling. But the panel's decision this time could torpedo his plan to recover lost political ground. In the DPJ presidential election Sept. 14, Mr. Ozawa received support from 200 DPJ lawmakers, only six short of the number of DPJ lawmakers from whom Prime Minister Naoto Kan received support.
When Mr. Kan reshuffled his Cabinet, for which no politicians from Mr. Ozawa's group were picked, Mr. Ozawa decided to take a wait-and-see attitude. He apparently hoped that there will be a call from within the DPJ and even from the public for his political comeback in view of difficulties the Kan Cabinet is facing. But Mr. Ozawa may have to conclude that his days are over.
It may be said that the panel brought an ordinary citizens' view into prosecutors' decisions. But the panel system needs improvement. At least a lawyer representing a person involved should be allowed to state his or her views before the panel.