ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Court finds Ichiro Ozawa not guilty
Publication Date : 27-04-2012
The Tokyo District Court found former Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa not guilty on Thursday over his alleged involvement in irregularities concerning his political funds management group, Rikuzan-kai.
The court-appointed lawyers serving as prosecutors in the trial had demanded a three-year prison term for Ozawa, 69, on charges of violating the Political Funds Control Law.
Presiding Judge Fumio Daizen acknowledged Ozawa's secretaries made false entries in Rikuzan-kai's political funds reports. But he rejected the allegation that Ozawa had conspired with his secretaries.
"It was not fully proven that Ozawa was aware of the implications of the falsification of the reports," the presiding judge said.
Ozawa is strongly opposed to a consumption tax hike, a political move Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is determined to achieve.
The acquittal of Ozawa, who leads the largest group within the DPJ, is certain to affect Noda's administration, observers say.
The lawyers said they would carefully consider whether to appeal the decision to a higher court.
Ozawa's case is the second in which a ruling has been handed down to a defendant indicted under the mandatory indictment system introduced following the enactment of the revised Inquest of Prosecution Law in May 2009. In both cases, the defendants were found not guilty.
In response to the court decision Thursday, those close to Ozawa expressed strong criticism of the mandatory indictment system, which may result in calls for a review of the process.
Rikuzan-kai received a cash loan of 400 million yen (US$4.9 million) from Ozawa when it purchased a plot of land in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, in October 2004, but it failed to list the money in its political funds report for 2004. Furthermore, it listed the land purchase expenditure in a report for 2005, according to the court-appointed lawyers.
The lawyers argued that Ozawa had received reports on these decisions from his former secretaries--House of Representatives member Tomohiro Ishikawa, 38, who was in charge of administration at Rikuzan-kai, and his successor, Mitsutomo Ikeda, 34--and gave his approval for them.
Both Ishikawa and Ikeda received suspended sentences at the Tokyo District Court in connection with the case. They have appealed to a higher court.
The ruling on Thursday acknowledged that Ishikawa and Ikeda intentionally falsified Rikuzan-kai's political funds reports because they were afraid that if Ozawa's provision of 400 million yen in cash came to light, it might adversely affect his political activities. The ruling said the secretaries decided to falsify the reports to avoid any problems.
Furthermore, the ruling acknowledged Ozawa's involvement in the case to a certain degree, saying he had received information on the plan to avoid listing the 400 million yen loan in the political funds report and gave his approval.
Based on this fact, the ruling said there was sufficient foundation for the prosecution's argument that there had been a conspiracy between Ozawa and his aides.
However, the ruling indicated that Ozawa might not have been aware that failing to list the loan and delaying entries on the land purchase expenditure would constitute falsification of political funds reports. The ruling thus denied the conspiracy between Ozawa and his secretaries because of a lack of deliberate intention by Ozawa to make false entries in the reports.
Ozawa had stated in a court hearing that he never saw political funds reports, but the ruling said this was extremely hard to believe. The ruling further criticised Ozawa's stance on the issue, saying such an attitude was inappropriate in light of his obligations under the Political Funds Control Law.
Ozawa's lawyers also demanded the court dismiss the indictment, insisting the decision that Ozawa merited indictment by the Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution was based on a falsified investigation report from a former member of the special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office.
But the court concluded that the decision by the inquest committee was valid, rejecting the lawyers' request.
The court also criticised the individual who falsified the report, saying prosecutors are never allowed to mislead members of an inquest committee with documents that misrepresent facts.
The court called for strict reprimanding of those concerned.
"The Public Prosecutors Office must conduct full investigations into the case and take appropriate measures," it said.
Ozawa 'expresses respect'
Ozawa expressed his respect for the Tokyo District Court decision in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.
"The ruling today was made in line with my argument that I never conspired [with my secretaries] in regard to false entries [in Rikuzan-kai's political funds reports]," Ozawa said in the statement. "I'd like to express my respect to the court for showing good sense and justice."
Summary of Ozawa case ruling
-- It was wrong for a prosecutor to make a false investigative report. Nonetheless, the committee for the inquest of the prosecution's decision to indict Ozawa, even though based on that report, was valid.
-- Two of Ichiro Ozawa's former secretaries intentionally made false statements in the reports of his political funds management organisation [regarding 400 million yen he provided as a cash loan].
-- While it may be recognised that Ozawa approved the action of not reporting the 400 million yen in the organisation's political funds report for 2004, it was not sufficiently proven that he was aware the money had to be listed in the report. Therefore, it cannot be concluded that Ozawa conspired with his secretaries in the false reporting.