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Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011

Ozawa ex-aide tapes inquisitor, talks up don

Former DPJ lawmaker Ishikawa faces funds rap, rues party disunity

Staff writer

On May 17 last year, lawmaker Tomohiro Ishikawa, arrested for allegedly falsifying a political funds report but free on bail, walked into the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor's Office with a mission — to record his pending interrogation.

News photo
Through my eyes: Tomohiro Ishikawa, a Lower House lawmaker who left the Democratic Party of Japan after allegedly falsifying political funds reports, is interviewed Wednesday. SATOKO KAWASAKI

With a small IC recorder hidden in his bag, Ishikawa spent five hours being grilled by the prosecutor.

The recording, later disclosed and used as evidence in court, showed the prosecutor pressured Ishikawa by warning he may be handed a fresh arrest warrant if he changed his initial claim.

"If the prosecution, as an organization, becomes serious about (slapping new charges on) lawmaker Ishikawa, it's not like we can't do it," the prosecutor was quoted as saying in the recording. "If you (don't change your plea) I don't think that will happen."

Before his arrest, Ishikawa was a Democratic Party of Japan member and an ex-aide of DPJ don Ichiro Ozawa. He faces trial in connection with an entry detailing ¥400 million allegedly provided by Ozawa to buy land in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, in the kingpin's 2005 political funds report instead of in 2004. It is alleged that the defendant made the entry later to hide the receipt of illicit funds from a contractor.

Ishikawa was Ozawa's secretary at the time.

When Ishikawa was first arrested, he reportedly told prosecutors that Ozawa had approved of the false entry. He later changed his story, claiming he had no recollection of such a conversation.

The Tokyo District Court, where he pleaded not guilty, is expected to hand down a ruling at the end of September.

The recording came to light as prosecutors introduced a partial audiovisual recording of interrogations to prevent wrongful charges.

Despite the fear of being found out, Ishikawa went through with the recording at the strong recommendation of former diplomat Masaru Sato, who had been convicted of misusing government funds and interfering in the bidding for an aid project.

Ishikawa said that during his interrogation, the prosecutor in charge took pains to ensure that nothing was being recorded, and checked that his cellphone was off and he was not recording anything.

"It definitely was not easy, being under so much pressure, to say I was not recording the session. . . . I was scared of the prosecutor," Ishikawa said during a recent interview with The Japan Times. "I was afraid that I would be (in trouble) with the prosecutor's special investigation unit again."

Nearly seven months later, Ishikawa finally told his lawyers about the recording and a document that was based on the recording was submitted to the trial as evidence.

As a result, in June the Tokyo District Court reportedly rejected 10 out of the 15 statements made by Ishikawa and parts of the remaining five records. It acknowledged that prosecutors used threats and "guided" Ishikawa's replies by using loaded questions.

The court's decision will give Ishikawa a big advantage, legal experts say.

If Ishikawa is acquitted, the possibility is high that the court will also find Ozawa, who is facing trial for allegedly giving the green light for the falsification, not guilty.

Ozawa's trial is expected to start later in the year.

The prosecutors "took records that went against my intentions," Ishikawa said. "People will be able to see that the prosecutors' special investigation unit forcefully tried to turn this into a (crime). I think this will deeply affect (my trial)."

Prosecutors said Ishikawa and another former Ozawa secretary, Takanori Okubo, falsified the records of Rikuzankai, Ozawa's political fund management body, in 2004 and 2005.

Prosecutors also claim the two former aides did not register the money in order to hide that they received ¥50 million each from general contractor Mizutani Construction in connection with a dam project in Iwate Prefecture, Ozawa's political home turf.

Hisashi Kawamura, former president of the construction company, has testified in detail about the payment he made to Ishikawa, including the name of the hotel where they allegedly met.

But Ishikawa firmly denied receiving any payoff.

"I absolutely did not" accept money from Mizutani Construction, Ishikawa said. "It is absurd and I am just hoping that (Kawamura) will tell the truth in his lifetime."

Ishikawa's apprehension is viewed as a steppingstone for the prosecutors to ultimately get to Ozawa.

Although prosecutors decided not to bring charges against Ozawa, an independent judicial panel overturned that decision last year and he was subject to mandatory indictment in January.

"Of course I bear a grudge against Ozawa — I might have had a whole different life," Ishikawa said. "I am on the verge of losing my Diet badge and having my civil rights suspended."

Ishikawa traces his political roots to shoveling snow, raking leaves and scrubbing floors at Ozawa's house in Setagaya Ward.

In his book "Akuto Ozawa Ichiro ni Tsukaete" ("Serving for the Villain, Ichiro Ozawa"), published by Asahi Shimbun Publications Inc. in July, Ishikawa humorously depicts his decade-long training as a secretary under the veteran lawmaker, often referred to as the "shadow shogun."

In his book, which sold 30,000 copies in the first three weeks after its debut, Ishikawa compares Ozawa to the late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Kinnikuman (Muscleman), a well-known manga character.

Ishikawa portrays Ozawa in a softer light than how most Japanese media cast him, including how he wears a "chanchanko" (cotton padded kimono jacket) at home and calls cellphones "piko piko" for the sound they make.

"There have been over 100 books written about Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, but most were quite commercial. . . . Some were written without even interviewing him and others just praised him," Ishikawa said. "I thought it was necessary to write a book about him as he was."

Born and raised in Ashoro, Hokkaido, Ishikawa is serving his second term as a Lower House member from District 11 of the prefecture.

Although he was a member of the DPJ, he said he had no choice but to leave the party after his indictment.

"In Japan, 99.9 percent of cases brought by prosecutors end in convictions and trials are mostly in name only . . . and the concept of presumed innocence has no place in the Japanese legal system," Ishikawa said. "Considering the situation at the time, I had to leave the party."

As an independent lawmaker, Ishikawa watches with frustration the internal disputes between former colleagues and also what he sees as a lack of leadership by Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

Kan, who has been in power since June 2010, has indicated he plans to step down but so far has not specified when, drawing criticism not only from the opposition parties but also from within the DPJ itself.

Kan is the second DPJ prime minister since the party swept to power in the historic 2009 Lower House election that ousted the Liberal Democratic Party from almost half a century of uninterrupted rule. He has well outlasted the 10-month stint of his scandal-tainted immediate predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama.

"The head of a company is the president — Mr. Kan for the DPJ. But a party whose 'employees' only protect themselves and bad-mouth the 'president' will not grow," Ishikawa said. "Once the outlook begins to look bad for the next leader, they are just going to bring that person down."

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