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Wednesday, March 1, 2006

DPJ's Nagata apologizes but not for allegations


By MASAMI ITO and HIROKO NAKATA
Staff writers

Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Hisayasu Nagata apologized Tuesday for failing to prove allegations he raised in the Diet that Livedoor Co. founder Takafumi Horie made a shady fund transfer to a son of Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe.

News photo
Hisayasu Nagata exits a meeting at the Democratic Party of Japan headquarters behind a stone-faced DPJ chief Seiji Maehara.

The largest opposition party has come under fire for failing to authenticate an e-mail Nagata alleged was internal instructions by Horie to staff to transfer the funds.

The DPJ said in a statement later Tuesday that it has determined based on its in-house probe that the e-mail was fake. It has been earlier reported that a freelance journalist had actually sent and received the e-mail.

DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama told an evening news conference that the e-mail contained various questionable points, including that the software that had been used differed from that of Horie's and there was an "at" mark (@) before his name at the end of the message.

"(The DPJ) has made a major mistake regarding the e-mail and we owe the general public an apology," Hatoyama said. He added that the party's information on the bank account number that the alleged transaction went through came through the same unnamed middleman, and that it could find no evidence to back up its authenticity, either.

Last week, Nagata offered to resign his Diet seat. On Tuesday, he said he would leave the decision up to Hatoyama.

As punishment, the DPJ on Tuesday suspended Nagata's party membership for six months and accepted Yoshihiko Noda's resignation as the party's Diet affairs chief. Noda had given Nagata the go-ahead to make the allegations.

Neither Hatoyama nor DPJ leader Seiji Maehara will resign. Instead, Hatoyama was severely reprimanded and Maehara was ordered to explain the snafu to the public, DPJ supporters and its members, and apologize.

"As secretary general, I believe I bear heavy responsibility," Hatoyama said. "Now is not the time to forfeit the game. Instead I must execute my responsibilities as secretary general to get this problem under control as soon as possible."

Nagata repeatedly apologized before the press Tuesday afternoon for the uproar in the Diet and the trouble he had caused Takebe and his son.

"I was personally convinced that the e-mail given to me by (the) source was real, and (that is why) I brought it up at the (Lower House) budget (panel) meeting," Nagata said.

He said he had had complete trust in the middleman who brought him the e-mail. The source supposedly was someone who had worked closely with Horie. The freelancer has yet to be identified.

The e-mail, whose sender and recipient were blacked out, and its contents looked authentic, Nagata claimed, "and above all, I did not feel that the e-mail was made up and handed to me out of spite."

The middleman, according to Nagata, continued to maintain until four or five days ago that the information in the e-mail was authentic.

Nagata read what he claimed was Horie's e-mail sent in August ordering staff to send 30 million yen to Takebe's son, during a Feb. 16 Lower House Budget Committee session.

Takebe, who stumped strongly for Horie's independent candidacy in last September's general election, has denied receiving the funds, claiming he checked all of the bank accounts controlled by his son and affiliated companies but found no such transfer.

Responding to demands from LDP lawmakers that the DPJ give concrete evidence that the e-mail was real, DPJ leader Seiji Maehara said his party would be willing to provide the bank account number and name of the account holder if a Diet opted to investigate -- an unlikely scenario given the LDP-led ruling bloc's dominance in the legislature.

Noda said at the Tuesday news conference that he gave Nagata the go-ahead to bring up the allegations before the committee "because there was a possibility that new information would surface depending on how (Nagata) questioned" Takebe.

Although Nagata said he was not able to come up with evidence to authenticate the e-mail, he said, "it does not necessarily mean that what was written was completely untrue," adding that he still is looking into its contents.

LDP Secretary General Takebe told reporters Tuesday morning that Nagata must take responsibility in court for defaming his son, who is not involved in politics.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe criticized Nagata's remarks in the Tuesday news conference.

"I'm afraid that he still made remarks indicating there are suspicious flows of money," Abe said. "The apology did not mean it has removed the disgrace brought upon Takebe and his son."

If Nagata really wanted to apologize, he should have said that the e-mail was fake and the contents of the message groundless, he said.

Observers say the e-mail uproar has affected both of the rival parties.

"The DPJ again lost a chance" to score against the LDP,' said Hidekazu Kawai, professor of comparative politics at Chubu University.

Recent setbacks by the government and ruling bloc should have been a good opportunity for the DPJ to gain ground.

"But the party not only found that the e-mail is bogus, but made a mess of" of the opportunity, Kawai said.

Prosecutor crossed line

Justice Minister Seiken Sugiura said Tuesday that a prosecutor acted improperly when he advised Livedoor on legal compliance matters following allegations that the Internet firm had violated securities law.

According to the ministry, the prosecutor is both a Tokyo public prosecutor and a professor of law at a private university in Kanagawa Prefecture.



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