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Monday, Jan. 3, 2011

EDITORIAL

Problematic prosecution report

The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office on Dec. 24 made public a report of an internal probe of how the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office's special investigation squad handled the case in which a former welfare ministry bureau chief allegedly fabricated an official document to help an organization receive a postage discount perk reserved for the disabled. The report doesn't go far enough.

This case greatly damaged people's trust in public prosecutors, in general, because of the disclosure that the chief investigator had tampered with an important piece of evidence. The report, submitted to a third-party panel at the Justice Ministry, says investigators made light of evidence that contradicted the prosecution's scenario of the alleged crime. The probe also found that the prosecution used leading questions and other means to prepare depositions and then wrongly arrested and indicted the bureaucrat, Ms. Atsuko Muraki.

It is widely known that similar problems have happened during the investigation of other cases. The report appears to come up short, though, in stressing that prosecutors offices as a whole have structural problems. All prosecutors should view the report as a warning that they use their power correctly by strictly following the basic principles of investigation.

Among the corrective measures, the report calls for electronically recording interrogations done by prosecutors attached to special investigation units, which exist only at the Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya district public prosecutors offices. It stops short of calling for the electronic recording of the entire interrogation process.

If only partial recordings are allowed, it is very likely that prosecutors will record only those parts of interrogations that are advantageous to their version of the crime scenario. Not only prosecutors with special investigation units but also ordinary prosecutors have brought false charges.

Investigators often argue that electronically recording the entire interrogation process precludes the possibility of a trustful relationship between them and suspects, making it difficult to get to the truth. If that's the case, then prosecutors offices should make a concrete proposal for introducing the plea bargaining system while accepting the electronic recording of the entire interrogation process.

On May 26, 2010, the Osaka District Court adopted only nine of 43 depositions presented by the prosecution — dismissing 15 depositions that composed the core evidence against Ms. Muraki. She was acquitted Sept. 10. She had been arrested on June 14, 2009, and indicted on July 4 of the same year.

The prosecution had alleged that Ms. Muraki, at some point between June 8 to June 10, 2004, instructed her subordinate, Mr. Tsutomu Kamimura (also indicted) to write and issue a certificate recognizing a certain organization as a benefactor for the disabled, thus enabling it to use the postage discount system. It then surfaced last Sept. 21 that the chief investigator, Mr. Tsunehiko Maeda, had tampered with a floppy disk seized from Mr. Kamimura. That disk contained the text of the certificate.

The time of the original last update on the disk was 1:20.06 a.m., June 1, 2004. The report states that data on the disk show that the text had been written by 1:20 a.m. that day.

The report states (1) that the prosecution's scenario set the date of Ms. Muraki's instructing Mr. Kamimura to write the certificate between June 8 and June 10, 2004, and (2) that Mr. Kamimura testified that he started writing the text on the same day he received the instruction, completing the certificate in the early morning of the following day.

In view of these facts, the report states, Mr. Maeda should not have decided to arrest Ms. Muraki immediately. Instead, Mr. Maeda should have consulted with his bosses and received opinions from higher prosecutors offices, it says.

It has become known that Mr. Maeda, on July 13, 2009, changed the time of the last update on the floppy disk to 9:10.56 p.m., June 8, 2004, apparently to have it correlate with the timeline of the prosecution's scenario. In the trial, an investigation report based on the prosecution's scenario was used as evidence. If the altered floppy disk had been submitted, Ms. Muraki could have been found guilty.

The report includes mention of the observation that Mr. Hiromichi Otsubo, head of the special investigation unit, failed to hold meetings of his investigators and to ask them to produce the main evidence. Thus he failed to examine the ongoing investigation. He applied pressure on Mr. Maeda, saying it was Mr. Maeda's duty to arrest Ms. Muraki.

Higher-ranking prosecutors found out about the floppy disk alteration around late January 2010. If they had carried out a complete probe, the report says, they could have told Ms. Muraki's lawyers about the alteration and withdrawn the indictment.

Although the report mentions many points, it still appears to be inadequate. Strangely the authors of the report failed to interview Ms. Muraki. As she points out, the report fails to examine the process in which a number of prosecutors prepared problematic depositions based on their version of the alleged crime. The Justice Ministry's panel should come up with proposals for drastic reform of public prosecutors offices.



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