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Friday, Feb. 11, 2011

EDITORIAL

Trial of Mr. Ozawa's aides

The trial of three former aides of former Democratic Party of Japan chief Ichiro Ozawa started Monday. The trio has been indicted on charges of falsifying 2004, 2005 and 2007 records for Mr. Ozawa's political funds management body Rikuzankai. At the outset of the trial at the Tokyo District Court, the three pleaded not guilty. The outcome of the trial will have a great bearing on the separate trial of Mr. Ozawa.

He was indicted Jan. 31 on a false reporting charge by three court-appointed lawyers on the strength of two successive votes by a 11-member citizens' legal panel to overturn the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office's decision not to indict him.

The arguments of the prosecution and those of Mr. Ozawa's former aides conflict head-on. It is hoped that the court will do its best to determine the facts related to Rikuzankai's reports with convincing objectivity and forceful reasoning.

Indicted are Mr. Tomohiro Ishikawa, a Lower House member, Mr. Takanori Okubo, a former senior secretary to Mr. Ozawa, and Mr. Mitsutomo Ikeda. They were investigated by the Tokyo prosecution office's special investigation squad.

Mr. Ishikawa and Mr. Okubo are charged with having conspired not to report for 2004 an outlay of ¥352 million that Rikuzankai used to purchase land in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, in October 2004, as well as a loan of ¥400 million from Mr. Ozawa to Rikuzankai, which financed the land purchase.

Additionally, Mr. Ikeda and Mr. Okubo are charged with having conspired to enter the ¥352 million outlay in a report for 2005 and not to report repayment of the ¥400 million loan to Mr. Ozawa in a report for 2007. Mr. Okubo is also charged with disguising ¥35 million in donations from Nishimatsu Construction Co. as having come from certain political organizations.

Mr. Ishikawa denies the charge that he failed to put the ¥400 million loan from Mr. Ozawa in the report for 2004. He argues that the entry "Oct. 29, ¥400 million, Ichiro Ozawa" in the report refers to the loan. But the prosecution says the entry refers to the same amount of money Rikuzankai borrowed from a bank under the name of Mr. Ozawa to buy the land.

Rikuzankai's handling of money is complex. After it borrowed ¥400 million from Mr. Ozawa, it put ¥400 million into a time deposit. It then borrowed ¥400 million from the bank using the time deposit as security to buy the land. The prosecution says that Rikuzankai recorded repayment of the bank loan and its interest in its reports. Apart from the repayment of the bank loan, Rikuzankai returned the ¥400 million it had borrowed from Mr. Ozawa in May 2007. The defendants must convincingly explain why there was a need for such complexity.

The prosecution says the nature of the sources of the ¥400 million Mr. Ozawa lent to Rikuzankai is such that they cannot be made public and that Mr. Ozawa cannot "rationally explain" them. It alleges that the ¥400 million included "thank you" money Rikuzankai received from Mizutani Construction Co. after Mr. Ozawa's office let the firm participate as a subcontractor in the construction of the Izawa dam in Oshu, Iwate Prefecture, where Mr. Ozawa's constituency is located.

The prosecution says the firm's president at the time handed an envelope containing ¥50 million in cash to Mr. Ishikawa in October 2004, at a hotel in Akasaka, Tokyo, and another ¥50 million to Mr. Okubo in April 2005. If these allegations are true, the exchange of money constitutes bribery. Strangely enough, neither of Mr. Ozawa's former aides nor Mr. Ozawa has been indicted in connection with Mizutani Construction's money. Both Mr. Ishikawa and Mr. Okubo vehemently deny that they received money from the firm.

Another important factor in the trial is whether the prosecutors' records of pretrial testimony by the defendants are reliable. The defense counsel says the prosecutors tried to get confessions to fit their scenario by questioning the accused in a threatening and leading manner.

During the pretrial procedure, the prosecution dropped from evidence a record of Mr. Okubo's testimony written by Mr. Tsunehiko Maeda, a former prosecutor of the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office's special investigation squad, who came to Tokyo to question him. Mr. Maeda has been indicted in a separate case. He is accused of evidence tampering — a floppy disk — in the trial of Ms. Atsuko Muraki, a former health and welfare ministry official, who was eventually acquitted of falsifying an official document.

Mr. Ishikawa secretly recorded his post-indictment questioning by a prosecutor. (His agreeing to be questioned was on a voluntary basis.) The record shows the prosecutor employing various techniques to prevent Mr. Ishikawa from retracting his earlier confessions. This trial deserves to be closely watched to find out which side is telling the truth.



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