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Friday, July 16, 2010

Panel votes to reopen Ozawa case

Prosecutors' decision not to charge DPJ kingpin 'unjust'


Staff writer

Former Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa should be indicted over his alleged involvement in falsifying a 2007 report compiled by his political fund management body, an independent judicial panel concluded Thursday in yet another blow to the ruling DPJ.

The decision by the No. 1 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution said the prosecutors' decision in February not to indict Ozawa was "unjust."

Technically, however, the wording leaves open the possibility the 2007 case will be closed if the prosecutors decide once again not to indict Ozawa. However, if he is charged, he will face trial.

Three Ozawa aides were earier charged with alleged misreporting of political funds, including in connection with money from at least one general contractor.

Ozawa, who stepped down from his position last month over political funds scandals, is also entangled in a case involving falsified fund reports in 2004 and 2005.

A special task force for the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor's Office will reinvestigate the 2007 case following Thursday's decision.

"I am aware of the decision but will not comment on each specific case," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku told reporters. "I am certain the prosecutors will handle the matter appropriately. I will not comment on the impact that it may have on the government."

Ozawa, 68, has laid low following his exit from the DPJ's No. 2 post. But the DPJ's Sunday defeat in the Upper House election had pundits predicting the kingpin would gain more power within the party.

Thursday's development is likely to touch off maneuvering ahead of the DPJ presidential election in September.

The panel alleged that Ozawa had a hand in concealing the shady transfer of ¥400 million that is believed to have been used in a Tokyo land purchase.

In February, prosecutors decided not to charge him, citing a lack of evidence that Ozawa was actively involved in cooking the books, but the panel called that conclusion "unjust."

"The suspect was questioned only three times during the investigation" and should face further questioning, the panel, formed by 11 citizens selected by lottery, said in a statement.

The decision was supported by a majority of its members.

The group also found "credible" testimony, including by Mie Prefecture-based Mizutani Construction Co., that Ozawa took part in falsifying reports.

The panel cited the acknowledgment of Ozawa aides that they showed the funding reports to the secretary general before filing them, and called on prosecutors to further examine the case.

In April, a different judicial panel — the No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution — looking into his 2004 and 2005 reports, found that the DPJ don "merits indictment" for his alleged false reporting of political donations. That decision was reached unanimously by the 11-member panel.

The following month, prosecutors for the second time decided not to indict over the 2004 and 2005 case — a decision they will likely reach again in the latest case.

An independent judicial panel can reach three conclusions. It can stand in favor of the prosecutor's decision not to indict, or call it "unjust," as was the case Thursday, or it can opt for the strongest position that an indictment is merited. This requires the approval of at least eight of the 11 members.

Back to square one?

Kyodo News

An independent judicial panel is likely to delay at least until August its decision on whether former Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa should be indicted over false financial reporting by his political fund management body, sources said Thursday.

The No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution is to make its second decision on whether Ozawa, a powerful backroom fixer who resigned from the DPJ No. 2 post last month, should be charged over the alleged falsification by his fund management body Rikuzankai of its 2004 and 2005 fund reports.

The delay may diminish the possibility of Ozawa's indictment because the panel will need to restart deliberations with all new members, and any decision may not happen until after the September election for the DPJ president.

In April, all of the 11 members of the panel agreed to recommend that Ozawa be indicted. Five of the 11 were still members as of Thursday, but they will be all replaced by new members, to be chosen from ordinary citizens by the end of this month.

In May, prosecutors decided for a second time not to indict Ozawa, after considering the panel's earlier decision that he merits indictment over the case.

Under the revised inquest of prosecution law that came into force in May last year, indictments are mandatory if an inquest panel decides twice that the accused should be indicted.

In February, the prosecution decided not to charge Ozawa, citing insufficient evidence, while indicting three of his former secretaries over the case and over the falsification of the body's 2007 report.



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