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Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010

Hatoyama assailed in Diet

Opposition claims 'tax dodger' pressing prosecutors to cut Ozawa slack

Staff writer

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was put on the defensive Wednesday over recent remarks appearing to encourage Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa to fight prosecutors over allegations of his involvement in a money scandal.

News photo
Pressure cooker: Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama fields questions at Wednesday's House of Councilors plenary session as Upper House President Satsuki Eda looks on. KYODO PHOTO

Answering questions in the Diet, Hatoyama, embroiled in a scandal of his own, said his comments were not intended to pressure or intervene in the prosecutors' probe, and added he believes "a fair investigation would be under way."

"I only expressed my approval of the secretary general's efforts in his battle to reform Japanese politics," Hatoyama said during a plenary session of the Upper House.

"I understood that in 'fighting,' Mr. Ozawa was referring to his determination to prove his innocence," he said.

Ozawa, whose former aides were recently arrested for failing to declare ¥400 million that was used to buy some land in Tokyo, is expected to undergo voluntary questioning later this week.

The DPJ kingpin has said he intends to remain in his post and clear his name.

Pointing to Hatoyama's scandal involving falsified entries by his political fund management body, the Liberal Democratic Party's Hidehisa Otsuji demanded he resign as prime minister, accusing him of failing to be a role model for ordinary tax-paying citizens.

"I ask for your immediate resignation if there is any shame left in you," Otsuji blasted.

Hatoyama rebuffed the demand. "My job is to devote all my energy to fulfill the public's expectations raised by the change in government," he responded, claiming again he was unaware of receiving funds in excess of ¥1 billion from his mother, the heiress to the Bridgestone tire empire.

Hatoyama, however, agreed to pay more than ¥500 million in gift taxes on the funds, earlier reports said.

Criticism from New Komeito was even harsher, with party lawmaker Akira Matsu attacking the prime minister for his alleged "tax evasion" attempt.

Even if Hatoyama was unaware of the funds, uncovered by prosecutors, their shady receipt could constitute "tax evasion," Matsu said.

Regarding the contentious issue of the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Hatoyama reiterated his vow to reach a conclusion by the end of May, saying the final decision will take the sentiment of Okinawa residents into account.

Questioned on the controversy over Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping's unusual audience with Emperor Akihito last month, Hatoyama said the meeting did not amount to political exploitation.

"The government requested the Emperor meet (Xi Jinping) as a gesture of good will that would be very meaningful in deepening future Japan-China ties," he said.

Ozawa an exception?

Kyodo News

A senior member of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan called Wednesday for legislation to change rules governing interrogations by law enforcement authorities, which are currently conducted behind closed doors, to allow lawyers and others to observe them.

The move is linked to growing dissatisfaction among lawmakers in Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's ruling Democratic Party of Japan with prosecutors, seeing that they have leaked information to news media against the party's kingpin, Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, in investigating alleged accounting irregularities involving his funds management body.

Lawyers are not allowed to be present when investigators grill suspects and such sessions are rarely videotaped or otherwise recorded, leading to claims that the practice has led to false charges and wrongful convictions.

"I have a bit of a problem with the flow of information that can only be known if either the prosecutors or a lawyer has provided it," Kenji Hirata, chairman of the DPJ Diet affairs committee in the House of Councilors, told reporters.

But Hatoyama on Wednesday took a cautious stance over submitting such a bill to the regular Diet session, which opened this week, urging his colleagues to stay calm.

"If you react like this just because this kind of affair has occurred, it could be taken as criticism of the prosecution," he told reporters. "The party should watch developments in the investigation and avoid getting too heated."

Also Wednesday, DPJ Acting Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi expressed his intention to consider submitting a bill to the current session to revise the Code of Criminal Procedure, acknowledging such calls within his party.

"The leadership will handle this adequately," he told other party members in the Upper House.

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