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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ozawa enters final plea of innocence

DPJ don sticks to position, hits prosecutors for political ploy


Staff writer

Ichiro Ozawa, former president of the Democratic Party of Japan, entered his final plea of innocence Monday at the Tokyo District Court, claiming no false entries were made in his political funds reports and he never conspired with his former secretaries to make such entries.

The court will rule on his case on April 26. Court-appointed lawyers serving as prosecutors have sought three years' imprisonment for Ozawa for violating the Political Funds Control Law by conspiring with three of his ex-aides to falsify reports issued by his political fund management body Rikuzankai in 2004 and 2005 concerning a ¥400 million land deal in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo.

At the 16th and closing session of his trial, which began last October, Ozawa told the judges that the prosecutors carried out an unfair and illegal investigation, and that he was indicted based on wrongful decisions by the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, which was misled by falsified reports submitted by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor's Office.

"This case is not just about prosecutors abusing their power. The real nature is political, because they have tried to obstruct a change in government by conducting a mandatory investigation into the leader of the (now ruling) party," Ozawa said.

"And once we took the helm of government, prosecutors tried to upset the new government by performing a mandatory investigation on an executive of the ruling party and leading him to be indicted," he said.

Ozawa was president of the DPJ in March 2009, when one of his then aides, Takanori Okubo, was arrested for allegedly breaking the Political Funds Control Law. He gave up the helm of what was then the largest opposition force in May that year. The DPJ went on to win the August 2009 general election by a landslide.

In its closing arguments Monday, Ozawa's counsel argued that the case was the residue of a "fantasy" formed by the Tokyo prosecutor's office, which without any strong evidence suspected that Ozawa had taken bribes from construction firms.

But prosecutors nevertheless arrested and indicted the three former aides, including Okubo, independent lawmaker Tomohiro Ishikawa and Mitsutomo Ikeda, for breaking the Political Funds Control Law. They then opened investigations that made it seem as if the former secretaries made the alleged false entries because the ¥400 million contained illegally obtained money, said Junichiro Hironaka, chief council of Ozawa's defense team.

Although they could not find enough evidence to indict Ozawa, prosecutors submitted erroneous reports to the inquest committee so that Ozawa would be indicted as a consequence, Hironaka said. "This is because prosecutors, who failed to indict Ozawa after performing a major investigation, wanted to avoid being criticized, and were desperately trying to indict him — even by deceiving the inquest committee," he said.

Ozawa faced mandatory indictment by the court-appointed lawyers in January 2011, after the inquest committee voted twice to press charges against the DPJ powerbroker as required.

Hironaka stated that Ozawa has clearly testified that the ¥400 million was part of what he inherited from his parents, his salary as a lawmaker and royalties from his publications. He also said neither Ozawa nor his secretaries had a motive or need to hide the origins of the money.

The defense also said there was nothing illegal about entering the transactions of the money in 2005 instead of 2004 because even though the land purchase was made in 2004, it was only until 2005 that the land was officially registered as Rikuzankai's.

"We're very confident that we will receive an acquittal," Hironaka said after the closing argument.

The court earlier decided not to admit key depositions made by Ishikawa and ex-aide Mitsutomo Ikeda and Takanori Okubo, as they found the interrogation records were taken amid strong pressure on the former aides to make them stick to a story line that would implicate Ozawa in making the false entries. Some, including Ozawa and his defense team, believe this is to their benefit.



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