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Wednesday, Sep. 14, 2011
Big picture on evidence tampering
Ms. Atsuko Muraki, a former health and welfare ministry official, was acquitted in September 2010 of a charge of forging an official document concerning postage discounts for an organization for the disabled. Mr. Tsunehiko Maeda, a prosecutor of the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office's special investigation squad in charge of her trial, was found to have tampered with a floppy disk allegedly containing the same text as the forged document. He was eventually given 18 months' imprisonment in April 2011.
On Sept. 12, the trial of his two former bosses — Mr. Hiromichi Otsubo and Mr. Motoaki Saga, respectively, the former head and vice head of the squad — started at the Osaka District Court. The two are accused of trying to hide the fact of floppy disk tampering despite being aware of Mr. Maeda's intentions. The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office indicted Mr. Otsubo and Mr. Saga.
The prosecution alleges that the two ordered Mr. Maeda to write a report that he had changed the floppy disk data by mistake even though they knew he had changed it intentionally, because of fear that findings of deliberate evidence tampering would negatively affect the squad's position in Ms. Muraki's trial. It also alleges that the two issued a gag order to other public prosecutors.
Mr. Otsubo and Mr. Saga vehemently deny the charges against them. The defense counsel says the two had heard that Mr. Okubo had tampered with the floppy disk by mistake and that the two had no knowledge that he had deliberately changed the data.
Because Mr. Maeda accepted the charge leveled against him without contesting it, his trial ended only after two hearings. He repeatedly said that under the instruction of Mr. Otsubo and Mr. Saga, it was decided to write a report that he had changed the floppy disk data by mistake, not deliberately.
The early conclusion of Mr. Maeda's trial made it impossible to present the total picture of the incident. The trial of his two bosses should not serve as a screen to hide what people in the higher echelons of the Osaka Public Prosecutors Office might have known and done. An important question is why the office decided to continue Ms. Muraki's trial after evidence of tampering surfaced.