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Friday, Oct. 7, 2011

DPJ don slams trial as a sham that tramples on democratic system

Ozawa sticks to innocence plea as court case begins


Staff writer

Ichiro Ozawa's long-awaited trial started Thursday with the former president of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan pleading not guilty to breaking the Political Funds Control Law and denying he conspired with former aides to falsify reports issued by his fund managing body in 2004 and 2005.

News photo
Round One: Ichiro Ozawa, former president of the Democratic Party of Japan, enters the Tokyo District Court on Thursday for the start of his trial over a political funds scandal. KYODO PHOTO

The Tokyo District Court trial marks the first time a Diet lawmaker is a defendant who was dealt a mandatory indictment by a panel of citizens specially authorized to review a case prosecutors had decided to drop.

"There are no such facts (as) stated in the indictment," Ozawa said when the presiding judge, Fumio Daizen, asked for his plea after the court-appointed lawyers serving as the prosecutors read out the indictment.

The outcome of the trial, expected in April, could have a profound effect on Ozawa's career and the DPJ.

Dressed in a blue-gray suit and sporting his lawmaker's lapel badge, Ozawa also read a statement to the court that harshly criticized public prosecutors, claiming they abused their authority to target him and his fund managing body, Rikuzankai, without solid evidence.

"Public prosecutors have carried out an unfair and illegal investigation, and I have been indicted based on the wrongful decisions of the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, who only based their decision on interrogation records that were illegally taken by prosecutors," Ozawa said. "This trial must be stopped right away.

"Even if I make a huge compromise and the trial proceeds, I have nothing to be accused of," he said. "There were no false statements about the political funds, and I have absolutely never conspired.

"I can especially not forgive the fact that the public prosecutors, who are not (chosen) by the public, have tried to trample on parliamentary democracy and violate the sovereignty of the public," he said. "They have forced an investigation by abusing their state power and targeting me when a general election was about to take place two years ago."

The powerful DPJ veteran was indicted by court-appointed lawyers after the Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, a panel of 11 citizens who were chosen at random from the voter registry, decided his case merited an indictment.

Although public prosecutors indicted three of Ozawa's ex-aides for breaking the political funds law, they dropped the case against Ozawa, citing a lack of evidence.

The case dates back to April 2010, when the inquest committee decided there were sufficient grounds to indict Ozawa. The panel's decision prompted professional prosecutors to review the case, after which they again decided not to press charges.

But last October — after the panel had been replaced with 11 new members — the inquest committee looked into the case again and decided the prosecutors' review had been "insufficient" and Ozawa merited indictment.

By law, if an inquest panel conducts two reviews of a case — the second time with a lawyer — and decides that someone should stand trial, an indictment automatically follows.

The court must then appoint outside lawyers to serve as the prosecutors and officially press charges.

Ozawa was indicted Jan. 31 by three court-appointed lawyers — Shunzo Omuro, Michio Muramoto and Kenichi Yamamoto — who have been assigned to act as the prosecution.

In their opening statement Monday, the assigned prosecutors said Ozawa lent ¥400 million to Rikuzankai in 2004 to buy a plot of land in Setagawa Ward, Tokyo, so he could build housing on it for his secretaries.

They said they will prove that Ozawa conspired with Tomohiro Ishikawa, a former aide who is now a Lower House lawmaker, and former secretary Takanori Okubo to deliberately omit the specifics of the transaction from Rikuzankai's political funds report in 2004.

They also alleged the DPJ kingpin and Okubo gave their nod for ex-aide Mitsutomo Ikeda to falsify the funding records. This resulted in Ikeda recording the transactions for the ¥350 million used to purchase the land in the 2005 report instead of that of 2004, when the land was actually acquired, the prosecution said.

Ozawa's defense team said in its opening statement that the case was a conspiracy by public prosecutors to destroy the DPJ and Ozawa's power after he took the reins of the party in 2006.

News photo
Following the kingpin: People line up in Hibiya Park hoping to land gallery seats for the Thursday start of lawmaker Ichiro Ozawa's Tokyo District Court trial. KYODO PHOTO

The investigation itself began in early 2009. After Okubo was arrested that March, Ozawa resigned as DPJ president in May. Three months later, the DPJ swept to power in a general election and Ozawa, had he still been at the helm, would have become prime minister.

Ozawa's lawyers said they will argue that the confessions of Ozawa's former aides were obtained illegally because prosecutors intimidated them, alleged they engaged in influence-peddling, and employed other psychological tactics against them behind closed doors.

"The inquest committee was led to wrongfully believe that the interrogation records were made properly, and they made a decision on the premise that a conspiracy took place," Ozawa's lead lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, said.

Ozawa's three ex-aides were convicted Sept. 26. The court ruled they conspired to cook the books and failed to provide clear explanations about the origins of the funds. The trio, who pleaded not guilty and got suspended sentences, have all appealed.

A separate group of judges is trying Ozawa, and legal experts say the conviction of the three former aides should technically not have a direct influence on his case.

The power of the inquest committee increased after the law governing it was revised in May 2009 to make its decisions legally binding. Previously, its decisions were only used to advise professional prosecutors.

Last October, when the inquest committee said Ozawa should be tried, the DPJ "shadow shogun" said in a statement that he was confident he his innocence would be proved.



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