After emerging victorious in his legal battle, kingmaker Ichiro Ozawa will return to the ruling party for an expected showdown with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda that could further complicate the murky political situation.
The Tokyo District Court on April 26 found Ozawa not guilty, saying it found no evidence that he conspired with three former aides who have been convicted of falsifying entries in political fund reports.
Lawyers appointed to serve as prosecutors were seeking a three-year prison sentence for the former president of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and said they would consider appealing the ruling.
But their case against Ozawa took a serious hit when the court threw out evidence that was found to have been fabricated by prosecutors.
“I respect the court’s display of good sense and fairness,” Ozawa said in a statement released after the verdict.
The trial was also the result of legal changes that took effect in May 2009, allowing citizens on prosecution inquest panels to overturn prosecutors' decisions and force indictments against suspects.
Ozawa's case is the second for which a verdict has been delivered under the revised prosecution inquest panel system. The other case involved a fraud charge in Okinawa Prefecture. In both cases, the defendant has been found innocent.
The acquittal will clear the cloud that had been hanging over Ozawa's political future.
DPJ Secretary-General Azuma Koshiishi told reporters on April 26 that he would soon begin internal party procedures to restore Ozawa's privileges as a member of the DPJ. Ozawa was stripped of those privileges after his forcible indictment.
With Ozawa back, his intraparty group, the largest in the ruling party, is expected to further intensify its efforts to derail Noda’s plan to pass legislation to raise the consumption tax rate.
Ozawa, 69, was indicted in connection with the purchase of land in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward in October 2004 by Rikuzankai, his political fund management organization.
According to the indictment, Ozawa provided a 400-million-yen ($4.9 million) loan to Rikuzankai to buy the land. The loan was not included as income in Rikuzankai's report for 2004, and the expenditure of about 350 million yen to buy the land was not included until its 2005 report.
The court examined the process in which Tomohiro Ishikawa, a Lower House member who once served as an aide to Ozawa, received a 400-million-yen bank loan taken out in Ozawa's name after the political heavyweight provided a similar amount for the real estate purchase. The court said Rikuzankai’s political fund report for 2004 only included the bank loan and not the amount from Ozawa.
Referring to the bank loan, the court said, "It was an off-the-books accounting measure used to avoid the possibility of Ozawa suffering political damage through critical reporting should the fact be revealed that he had such huge personal assets."
The court ruled that false entries in the political fund reports for 2004 and 2005 were conducted by Ishikawa and Mitsutomo Ikeda, another former aide.
Although Ozawa did sign the document for the bank loan, the court said Ishikawa went beyond the allowed discretion in receiving the loan.
The court said Ozawa received and approved information provided by Ishikawa that the political fund reports would not include Ozawa’s 400 million yen and would delay the entry for the expenditure to buy the land.
But the court also said, "(Ozawa) did not receive a report on the details of the negotiations for the land deal, so there is the possibility that he was not aware the entry for the purchase should have been included in the 2004 report."
The court concluded there was insufficient evidence to prove that Ozawa deliberately conspired with his former aides to falsify the reports.
During Ozawa's trial, it was revealed that a deposition submitted to the prosecution inquest panel included an exchange between Ishikawa and Masahiro Tashiro, a prosecutor then with the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office, that never occurred.
Ozawa's lawyers demanded the entire case be thrown out, saying the fake deposition invalidated the decision by the prosecution inquest panel.
However, the Tokyo District Court ruled the panel’s decision was valid, saying the problems in the procedures involving the inquest panel were a different matter.
The court described the compilation of a false deposition that negatively affected the inquest panel as unforgivable, and called on the public prosecutors office to look into the cause and background of that misstep.
Ishikawa, Ikeda and Takanori Okubo, another former aide, were found guilty of falsifying the political fund reports last September. The three have appealed.
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