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Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012
Time to leave Mr. Ozawa alone
The Tokyo High Court Monday acquitted Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, former secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan and now head of the People's Life First party, of charges of violation of the Political Funds Control Law. The high court, in deciding that he had not conspired with three of his former secretaries to falsify financial reports of his political fund management body Rikuzankai, thus upheld the Tokyo District Court's April 26 not-guilty ruling. Compared with the district court's ruling, the high court's ruling strengthened the case for Mr. Ozawa's innocence. In view of this fact and of the history of Mr. Ozawa's case, the court-appointed lawyers acting as prosecutors should not appeal the high court ruling to the Supreme Court, as it would only result in unwarranted restrictions on Mr. Ozawa's political activities.
Mr. Ozawa on his part cannot be too careful about his conduct as a politician, especially in the matter of political funds. He must do his utmost to play a constructive role to help Japan get out of its politically and economically difficult situation attributable to both internal and outside factors.
At to Mr. Ozawa's criminal case, there is suspicion that the prosecution misled a Tokyo prosecution inquest committee, an 11-member citizens' judicial panel that played a crucial role in indicting Mr. Ozawa. A third-party organization should closely examine the prosecution's conduct and make public its findings. If necessary, the Diet should step in.
The case followed a zigzag course. In February 2010, the special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office indicted Mr. Ozawa's three former aides but did not indict him due to insufficient evidence. In April 2010 the citizens' panel voted to indict Mr. Ozawa. This automatically forced the public prosecutors office to launch a second round of investigation. But the office the next month again decided not to indict him.
Then, in September 2010, the panel voted for a second time to indict Mr. Ozawa. Therefore, in accordance with the "mandatory indictment" procedure under a new provision of the law on prosecution inquest committees, which went into force in May 2009, the three court-appointed lawyers indicted him in January 2011.
The mandatory indictment on the basis of two rounds of votes by a prosecution inquest committee to override a no-indictment decision by public prosecutors is designed to reflect citizens' views in decisions by public prosecutors. But the court-appointed lawyers acting as prosecutors should not make light of the fact that Mr. Ozawa has been acquitted twice.
Since a person indicted under the mandatory indictment procedure has received two no-indictment decisions by the prosecution prior to the final vote by a prosecution inquest committee, the government should consider revising the Criminal Procedure Law to ban court-appointed lawyers from appealing a not-guilty ruling to a higher court.
Mr. Ozawa's charges revolve around ¥400 million in bank loans that he took out using ¥400 million of his own funds as collateral and Rikuzankai's purchase of land using the ¥400 million in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, in October 2004.
It was charged that he conspired with three of his former secretaries not to enter the ¥400 million that Mr. Ozawa had lent to Rikuzankai in its 2004 financial report and, instead, agreed to enter only the October 2004 land deal, which cost ¥400 million, in the body's 2005 financial report. But there was little evidence and the court-appointed lawyers could not even show when the conspiracy took place.
The April ruling by the Tokyo District Court said that it is logical to presume from circumstantial evidence that Mr. Ozawa received reports from the secretaries, including Mr. Tomohiro Ishikawa, now a Lower House member, on how to handle the ¥400 million and the land deal in Rikuzankai's reports.
It ruled that his secretaries' failure to record the ¥400 million in the 2004 report and their entering of the land deal in the 2005 report constituted illegal acts.
As for Mr. Ozawa, the court pointed to the possibility that he was not told by his secretaries that their way of handling the ¥400 million and the land deal was in violation of the law and the possibility that he may never have imagined that Rikuzankai's reports were falsified. Thus the court concluded that although Mr. Ozawa was contacted by his secretaries beforehand, that did not constitute a conspiracy.
Monday's high court ruling said that because there is the possibility that Mr. Ishikawa and another secretary thought that no illegality was involved in entering the October 2004 land deal in the 2005 report, no illegal act was committed as far as this matter is concerned. Thus the high court changed part of the district court's ruling in favor of Mr. Ozawa's side.
As for Mr. Ozawa, it pointed to the possibility that he only had a vague idea on how his secretaries would handle the ¥400 million and the land deal in Rikuzankai's reports and thought that the reports would be properly written. Thus it acquitted him.
Mr. Ishikawa and the two other secretaries were given suspended sentences by the Tokyo District Court in September 2011. But it surfaced that Mr. Masahiro Tashiro, then prosecutor with the special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office, falsified a report on his interrogation of Mr. Ishikawa and that the falsified report was submitted to the citizens' judiciary panel.
The report quoted Mr. Ishikawa as saying that Mr. Tashiro told him that if he (Mr. Ishikawa) told a lie to protect his boss, it would amount to a betrayal of the people who elected him (Mr. Ishikawa) to the Lower House, and that this statement by Mr. Tashiro led him to confess his guilt. But Mr. Ishikawa did not make these statements.
This reinforces the case for thorough examination of the prosecution's conduct. Also there is no transparency in the citizens' judiciary panel's discussions and a person who may face indictment has no chances to present his case. The system needs an overhaul.