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Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Inquest: Ozawa merits indictment
Another blow for DPJ as kingpin may have to resign
By ALEX MARTIN
The embattled Democratic Party of Japan-led government received another blow Tuesday when an inquest panel decided that DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa merits indictment over his funding management body's alleged false reporting of political donations from 2004 to 2007.
The special task force for the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor's Office now has to reinvestigate the case. But even if it decides again not to indict the DPJ kingpin, charges will become mandatory if a fresh panel subsequently decides for a second time in favor of indictment.
The independent judicial panel of 11 citizens selected by lottery reached the decision following a complaint filed in February by a citizens' group against the earlier decision by prosecutors not to indict Ozawa.
The decision is a setback for the ruling party, which has been suffering from a string of money scandals and sinking public support ahead of the summer Upper House election.
Following the decision, Ozawa said he will remain in his post.
"I will do my best to continue my job," he said. "I believe the investigative authorities will make an appropriate judgment in the end."
Despite his defiance, Ozawa is expected to face renewed calls for his resignation from the ruling party's No. 2 post.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama declined to comment on the panel's decision.
"Any remarks I make could affect the decision of prosecutors," he said.
Veteran DPJ lawmaker Kozo Watanabe said Ozawa must take the judgment seriously.
"The voice of the people is the voice from heaven," he said, but he added it's up to Hatoyama and Ozawa himself to decide what to do next.
Tomoaki Iwai, a political science professor at Nihon University, said it is highly likely that the panel will again decide in favor of indicting Ozawa.
"Ozawa has been forced into a very difficult situation. The question now is whether he will step down from his post or not," the expert on political funds said. "I believe he will have to resign" before the Upper House election.
Public calls for the resignation of Ozawa, dubbed the shadow shogun, have been mounting for months. If Ozawa decides to step aside, it will be the second time he has been forced to quit a prominent party position. He quit as DPJ president last May after his secretary, Takanori Okubo, was indicted over the scandal involving massive donations from Nishimatsu Construction Co.
Tokyo prosecutors decided Feb. 4 not to file a criminal charge against Ozawa.
They did however charge three of Ozawa's current and former aides, including Okubo and lawmaker Tomohiro Ishikawa, who left the ruling party after his indictment, for misreporting the flow of funds in the 2004 and 2005 reports.
The prosecutors cited a lack of evidence in their decision not to indict Ozawa. The citizens' group filed its criminal complaint Feb. 12, saying the decision did not reflect the public consensus.
The revised inquest of prosecution law requires prosecutors to submit the results of their reinvestigation within three months of the panel's decision.
"A conspiracy (between Ozawa and Ishikawa) is strongly suspected," the panel said Tuesday.
It also said Ozawa's deeds are unforgivable from the standpoint of ordinary citizens, posing a question, "Is it OK that a politician's criminal responsibility is overlooked if that politician says he or she leaves the matter up to secretaries?"