On Monday, the Tokyo District Court found the three defendants guilty of violating the Political Funds Control Law in connection with a land purchase by Ozawa’s funds management organization, Rikuzan-kai.
Figures tied to the Rikuzan-kai case include Ozawa, who has been indicted as an alleged accomplice in the accounting fraud involving his three former aides, including Tomohiro Ishikawa, a House of Representatives member, and Takanori Okubo, a former treasurer at the fund-managing body.
The DPJ kingpin’s indictment was made possible on the strength of a decision arrived at by an independent inquest-of-prosecution committee. A trial on Ozawa’s alleged involvement in the case will open next month.
The legal battle involving Ozawa’s three former aides was fought in the runup to his forthcoming trial. In light of this, Monday’s guilty ruling is expected to affect the fate of Ozawa’s trial and his political career.
Noteworthy in the latest ruling was its recognition of Ozawa’s money-driven approach. The decision stated offices maintained by Ozawa colluded with major construction companies in the awarding of contracts for public works projects.
The ruling said Ozawa’s offices had long influenced the selection of construction firms to which public works project contracts should be awarded. Rigging bids on these contracts had been taken for granted in determining the winner. The court decided Okubo ? a figure who played the role of issuing “the voice from heaven” in the selection of contract winners ? had directed construction firms to provide donations to Ozawa.
The court also determined why Rikuzan-kai’s political funding reports did not include money tied to the organization’s land purchase, including 400 million yen in cash provided by Ozawa. The ruling said the omission of references to this money in Rikuzan-kai’s income and expenditure reports was intended to conceal the off-the-book funds received from a second-tier construction company in connection with its winning of a contract for a dam construction project in the Tohoku region.
The sequence of events cited in the ruling shows the act of entering false information in Rikuzan-kai’s political funding reports constituted an extremely serious crime deliberately committed by the accused ? not just “an error” that Ozawa insisted had been made in filling in these documents.
Since the scandal came to light, Ozawa has denied the off-the-book money had been paid to his side by the construction firm. He has refused to state his position on the specifics of the scandal. Ozawa’s elusive stance has also been evident in a flip-flop in his explanation about where the 400 million yen in cash used to buy the land in question came from. At one time, he said the money was “a bank loan.” Later, he retracted this, saying the cash came from “my own coffers.”
Ozawa must not be allowed to get away with refusing to account for this scandal. The DPJ should arrange for him to answer questions about the case at a party meeting and a Diet session. Failure to do so would mean the ruling party has no ability to cleanse itself of suspected corruption.
Meanwhile, the latest scandal also aroused questions about the methods used by prosecutors investigating the case.
The district court did not use many of the depositions taken from the accused, rejecting an application filed by the prosecution to have them accepted as evidence during the trial. The court said, “Prosecutors cajoled the defendants [into confessing what they wanted to hear] during their questioning.”
In establishing their guilt, the court examined depositions made by Ishikawa and the two other defendants to determine where their testimony clashed. This was a clear sign that the nuts and bolts of criminal trials in this country are shifting from an emphasis on depositions taken from suspects to a greater weight on court proceedings, when it comes to determining the guilt of the accused.
Prosecutors need to reconsider their reliance on depositions as a primary tool for investigations, while also honing their skills for questioning defendants during trials.
(Editorial, The Yomiuri Shimbun)
(Asia News Network)