The Yomiuri Shimbun (May. 17, 2010)
The Tokyo District Public Prosectors Office's special investigation squad questioned Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa on Saturday. The questioning is part of prosecutors' reinvestigation into Ozawa's fund management body's alleged false reporting of political funds after the Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution decided last month that he merits indictment over the case.
During the questioning, the prosecutors are believed once again to have asked Ozawa whether he was involved in falsifying the political fund report. Ozawa apparently denied involvement, as he did before.
It was the third round of questioning of Ozawa by the special investigation squad. Ozawa was surprisingly quick in responding to the questioning this time compared with the squad's request for its first round of inquiries in January, for which Ozawa refused to appear for more than two weeks, saying he was busy.
Three days ago, Ozawa expressed his intention to attend the Political Ethics Hearing Committee of the House of Representatives to explain the facts related to the allegations.
Ozawa should state his case
Since the prosecutors decided not to charge Ozawa in February, citing insufficient evidence, the DPJ heavyweight insisted there was no need for him to offer an explanation in the Diet, saying, "It's become clear that I didn't do anything wrong."
Ozawa might consider that declaring his innocence, both during prosecutorial questioning and before the Diet, would provide a good opportunity to fend off criticism that he has heretofore evaded his responsibility to offer an explanation.
From his response, Ozawa's strategy to draw a line under the scandal can be seen as follows: Sooner or later, the prosecutors will decide not to indict him. He then will offer an explanation over the scandal at the Diet's Political Ethics Hearing Committee and insist he has fulfilled his responsibility. At that point, the committee for the inquest of prosecution would not be likely to conclude he should be indicted.
The prosecutors should strongly recognize the significance of this time's questioning of Ozawa.
When the independent judicial panel decided that Ozawa merited indictment, some officials within the prosecutors office said the decision not to charge Ozawa would not be overturned unless they obtained new evidence.
Finishing the questioning as a mere formality while concluding from the outset Ozawa should not be indicted is an abdication by the prosecutors of their responsibility to verify the truth. Such an attitude also is tantamount to disregarding the committee for the inquest of prosecution, which gathers opinions of the general public.
Public trust undermined
Ozawa still bears a heavy political responsibility.
Ozawa's own fund management body, Rikuzan-kai, was at the heart of the scandal in relation to which the prosecutors charged three of Ozawa's former secretaries. How does Ozawa view his supervisory responsibility over his secretaries?
"A lawmaker is held responsible for a crime committed by his or her secretary." This is what Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said when he pointed the finger of blame at Liberal Democratic Party politicians. The public probably shares the same sensibility.
It is undeniable that the lawmakers' response of "making their inferiors carry the can," in which blame for transgressions is laid only on their secretaries, has increased people's distrust of politics. In opinion surveys, the great majority said Ozawa should resign as DPJ secretary general.
If the prosecutors decide again not to indict Ozawa, the committee for the inquest of prosecution will revisit the case. The questioning of Ozawa never ends.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 16, 2010)