Court must unravel Ozawa money trail
The trial of three former secretaries of ruling party heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa quickly became an all-out battle between the defendants and prosecutors soon after it opened Monday.
The first hearing for House of Representatives member Tomohiro Ishikawa and the two other former secretaries opened at the Tokyo District Court. They were charged in connection with a suspicious land deal involving Rikuzan-kai, the political funds management body of Ozawa, a former Democratic Party of Japan president. The three former secretaries are charged with violating the Political Funds Control Law.
Prosecutors insist the secretaries did not register 400 million yen, which the group had borrowed from Ozawa to purchase the land, in Rikuzan-kai's political funds reports because the money originally had come from a source that they did not want to identify.
Ishikawa and the other secretaries have pleaded not guilty and insisted they had not falsified statements in the funds reports.
In the same case, Ozawa was recently indicted based on decisions by a judicial panel comprising citizens on charges of violating the same law, and his trial is expected to begin this summer at the earliest. He is accused of conspiring with the three secretaries to cover up the money trail. The secretaries' trial shares many pieces of evidence and points of contention with the Ozawa trial. Therefore, it is shaping up as a prelude to--and likely will be a barometer for the outcome of--Ozawa's trial.
Still waiting for explanation
Ozawa has given inconsistent explanations regarding where the 400 million yen in question came from, a key focus in the trial. We hope the trial will fully uncover the source of the money and what it was actually intended for.
In their opening statement, prosecutors said Ozawa's office had received illegal donations from a general contractor in connection with a dam construction order around the same time it had borrowed the money from Ozawa. The prosecutors apparently intended to emphasize the maliciousness of falsifying a statement in a political funds report.
However, the defendants denied receiving the donation. The trial will hinge on whether prosecutors can prove the credibility of a statement by the construction firm, which allegedly said it handed the cash to Ozawa's secretaries.
The Ozawa office's alleged reception of illegal donations from a construction firm in exchange for exercising influence over the selection of a contractor in a public works project has shades of a separate trial involving Nishimatsu Construction Co. That case came to light about two years ago.
While repeatedly criticizing prosecutors and the committee for the inquest of prosecution, Ozawa has yet to provide an explanation that would clear up the allegations against him. Furthermore, he has not come forward to answer questions in the Diet about the scandal. Although Ozawa now is a defendant in a criminal case, we think he still has a responsibility as a politician to explain himself in the Diet.
Prosecutors in spotlight
The public is certainly watching the investigation by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office--which has handled a number of cases involving politicians--more closely than ever before.
Ishikawa and the other secretaries have claimed testimonies they gave during interrogations--in which they admitted the allegations--were not credible because they were not made voluntarily. They allege the forceful investigation led them to make incriminating statements against their will.
The defendants' testimonies have a direct bearing on the core questions in this case. If these confessions are deemed to be not credible, it could not only determine the direction of Ozawa's trial but also raise questions about the prosecution's investigation, which was built on statements by people involved.
The prosecutors will need to carefully prove each of the defendants' testimonies were made of their own free will and are credible.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 8, 2011)