Ozawa must take political responsibility
Like three of his former secretaries, former Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa is being pursued over criminal responsibility for alleged accounting irregularities. Given the extreme gravity of the situation, we urge Ozawa to take responsibility as a politician.
Three court-appointed lawyers acting as prosecutors indicted Ozawa on Monday on charges of violating the Political Funds Control Law over false reporting of funds by his political funds management body, Rikuzan-kai, in connection with a land deal in Tokyo.
The mandatory indictment came after an independent judicial panel of citizens determined twice that Ozawa should be indicted even though prosecutors had decided not to do so. Ozawa became the first lawmaker subjected to a mandatory indictment.
The DPJ kingpin is charged with false reporting of political funds, having failed to list 400 million yen loaned to Rikuzan-kan to purchase a plot of land in Tokyo in its political funds report for 2004.
In fact, Ozawa's former secretaries, including House of Representatives member Tomohiro Ishikawa, are the ones who are believed to have conducted false accounting procedures. However, the court-appointed lawyers argue that Ozawa can be charged with conspiring with his former secretaries because the aides are believed to have reported the illicit procedures to Ozawa in advance and received his approval.
Heavy moral responsibility
In response, Ozawa insisted he was innocent and would fight the charges in court. "There's nothing I should feel guilty about," he told reporters after the mandatory indictment. He also denied any intention of leaving his party or resigning as a lawmaker, saying that he would continue to sincerely tackle his duties as a Diet member of the DPJ.
Moreover, Ozawa argued the mandatory indictment was made on criteria that are completely different from those used by prosecutors for ordinary indictments when they are fully convinced of a defendant's guilt.
The statement was made based on his own logic that the presumption of innocence in criminal trials should be stronger in cases of mandatory indictment than in cases of ordinary indictment and that therefore he must be ensured more freedom in political activities than an ordinarily indicted defendant would be allowed.
However, for an incumbent lawmaker to face trial is a situation freighted with heavy meaning. Will a criminal defendant be allowed to insidiously exert influence in a ruling party? Various opinion polls show most people have strong doubts on this point.
In Ozawa's particular case, Ishikawa and the two other former secretaries have been indicted on charges of violating the Political Funds Control Law. In this regard, Ozawa bears heavy political and moral responsibility.
Ishikawa left the DPJ after his indictment. Many people, both inside and outside the party, are calling on Ozawa to resign as a Diet member or voluntarily leave the party. "[Mr. Ozawa] must make clear his course of action as a politician," Prime Minister Naoto Kan has said.
We believe it is high time for Ozawa to sincerely consider taking such political responsibility.
Another problem is Ozawa's failure to fulfill his responsibility of explaining his stand on the political funding scandal in the Diet.
Ozawa held a press conference late last year and expressed his intention to attend the lower house Deliberative Council on Political Ethics to provide explanations.
Nevertheless, he has kept on putting off his attendance. He has set such preconditions as saying he would attend the ethics panel only if his attendance would help promote Diet deliberations because top priority must be placed on passing the budget through the Diet.
In the end, he prioritized the logic of self-protection.
The DPJ leadership's handling of this matter has come into serious question.
Sworn testimony necessary
Kan and DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada intended to have the political ethics panel vote before the ordinary Diet session convened to require Ozawa to appear before the panel. However, they were forced to abandon this plan due to resistance from pro-Ozawa party members and other factors.
Since its inauguration in June last year, the Kan administration has been trying to have Ozawa appear in the Diet to explain the political funding scandal. At a New Year's press conference, Kan expressed his determination to resolve politics-and-money problems this year.
Nevertheless, the prime minister has failed to unify opinions within his party and has been unable to open the political ethics panel. This is yet another example of Kan's talking the talk but not walking the walk. This calls into question the administration's problem-solving ability.
As long as Ozawa does not heed his own party's wish for him to attend the political ethics panel, Kan should proactively have Ozawa appear in the Diet by summoning him as a sworn witness, as demanded by the opposition bloc. It would also be worth Kan's consideration to heavily punish Ozawa by, for example, telling him to leave the party.
The focus in the upcoming Ozawa trial will be testimony by witnesses including Ishikawa, who stated during police investigations that Ozawa was involved in the political funding irregularities. While prosecutors did not highly value Ishikawa's statement, saying it lacked substance, the committee for the inquest of prosecution attached importance to the statement, calling it reliable.
However, Ishikawa is set to vigorously contest the voluntary nature and credibility of his own statements, insisting that investigators induced him to say certain things in questioning. Other secretaries may do the same.
Tell truth in court
The court-appointed lawyers acting as prosecutors in the trial will need to find and present circumstantial evidence to supplement their testimony.
Ozawa has repeatedly criticized the committee for the inquest of prosecution, claiming that it is covered by a veil of secrecy and describing it as an extraordinary system in a democratic society.
However, committee members receive advice from lawyers in making their decisions, and make judgments based on law and evidence. The three court-appointed lawyers in the Ozawa case spent three months undertaking supplementary investigations.
Ozawa criticized the committee without understanding the system's objectives, and we find his criticism has gone too far.
Ozawa's trial is expected to start in summer or later. Ozawa clearly stated that he would tell the truth in an open court until all the people in the country are convinced. He should sincerely put his words into practice.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 1, 2011)