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Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011

EDITORIAL

Moment of truth nears

Former Democratic Party of Japan chief Ichiro Ozawa, on the advice of his attorneys, turned down a request Tuesday to submit to interrogation ahead of his expected indictment on allegations of falsely reporting political funds. The request had come from lawyers appointed by the court to act as prosecutors in the indictment.

Mr. Ozawa's attorneys based their advice on the fact that Mr. Ozawa is already a de facto defendant, and on their opinion that the "prosecutors" ' replies to inquiries concerning the conditions of the interrogation and the specific questions to be posed were insufficient. After Tuesday's development, the court-appointed lawyers are expected to speed up the process of indicting him.

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has already indicted Mr. Tomohiro Ishikawa, a Lower House member and former secretary to Mr. Ozawa, in connection with the alleged false reporting in 2004 and 2005 by Rikuzankai, Mr. Ozawa's political funds management body. Mr. Ishikawa's trial will start on Feb. 7. Although the prosecutors office decided not to indict Mr. Ozawa after questioning him several times, Tokyo's Fifth Prosecution Inquest Committee, an independent citizens' judiciary panel, overturned the decision in mid-September, paving the way for his "mandatory" indictment. (The panel's decision was made public in early October.)

The DPJ leadership wants to have Mr. Ozawa to speak on the problem of money and politics in the Lower House's Council on Political Ethics. But if Mr. Ozawa is indicted, there is a strong possibility that he will concentrate on his trial, skipping his appearance before the council. Some people appear to think that Mr. Ozawa has not yet fully answered questions about his political funds. He may have been able to avoid "mandatory" indictment if he had explained extensively to the public earlier enough.

On the other hand, it is becoming clear that Prime Minister Naoto Kan and DPJ members supporting him, such as DPJ acting chief Yoshito Sengoku and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, are trying to increase Mr. Kan's political advantage by making Mr. Ozawa a political scapegoat.

Mr. Sengoku and Mr. Edano appear to be determined to corner Mr. Ozawa if he is indicted. They will probably make efforts to have the DPJ party leadership decide to press him to leave the party, believing that if the DPJ can show to the public that it has severed ties with Mr. Ozawa, it would help buoy the approval rating of the Kan Cabinet.

DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada seems to prefer a softer approach to Mr. Ozawa. While he wants to settle the money and politics problem related to Mr. Ozawa, he is also paying attention to the need to keep the unity of the DPJ, which includes a large number of pro-Ozawa politicians.

Mr. Okada also wants to maintain good relations with pro-Ozawa DPJ politicians, especially Mr. Azuma Koshiishi, head of the DPJ's Upper House caucus, who has a strong influence over DJP members of the Upper House. Mr. Okada needs their support if he seeks to become the top leader of the DJP and consequently prime minister in the future. Unlike Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, one of the hopefuls to succeed Mr. Kan as prime minister, Mr. Okada does not have his own intraparty group to support him.

If Mr. Ozawa is indicted, the court-appointed "prosecutors" must do their best to unravel the alleged crime involving Mr. Ozawa to the extent that the disadvantage the "mandatory" indictment and the subsequent trial has caused to Mr. Ozawa can be justified.

One of the questions the trial must clarify is why Rikuzankai, which had borrowed ¥400 million from Mr. Ozawa, had to borrow the same amount of money from a bank to purchase land. Mr. Ozawa had signed and put his seal on a document requesting the loan from a bank.

At present, it seems that the "prosecutors" do not have strong evidence advantageous to them. A deposition by public prosecutors in which Mr. Ishikawa says that he consulted with and reported to Mr. Ozawa over falsifying reports on the political funds can be a weapon for the "prosecutors."

But Mr. Ishikawa is asking the court to adopt as evidence letters he sent to his lawyers in which he wrote about "threatening interrogation" by public prosecutors of the prosecutors office's special investigation squad. He also secretly recorded questions that prosecutors posed to him during a voluntary questioning after his release on bail. He is asking the court to adopt as evidence a document in which he has written down "leading questions" used by the prosecutors during the questioning.

It is hoped that the trials of Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Ishikawa will provide concrete clues for people to objectively judge the problem of money and politics. Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Ishikawa have the right to pursue their innocence. But the trials are also chances for them to answer questions people have about their alleged crimes.



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