The Tokyo District Court on April 26 found political heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa not guilty of falsifying political fund reports.
Ozawa, a former president of the Democratic Party of Japan, will now almost certainly try to make a political comeback. As if waiting patiently for this moment, a joyous mood is spreading within the DPJ to welcome him back.
But this should not be tolerated.
Criminal trials are a process to pass judgment on charges based on law and evidence. Naturally, criminal responsibility and responsibility as a politician are different matters. Ozawa has yet to take political responsibility.
What was judged in court on April 26 is no more than a small portion of the "Ozawa problem" that we have been pointing out time and again.
Even before Ozawa’s mandatory indictment, we had been calling on him to retire from politics and relinquish his Diet seat.
It is our belief that Ozawa's forceful political methods, which rely on sheer force of numbers, and undisguised pork-barrel politics aimed at winning elections represent an antiquated political culture that is incompatible with the "new politics" that voters looked to with a change of government.
Even though three former Ozawa aides have been found guilty in separate trials, Ozawa has refused to explain his side of the story in the Diet. This attitude reeks of old-style politics.
Now that Ozawa has been acquitted, this is all the more true.
The court acknowledged that the contents of political fund reports submitted by Ozawa's fund management organization were false. Nevertheless, Ozawa was found not guilty. The court said it is possible Ozawa's aides failed to provide him with detailed explanations. There is also a lingering suspicion that Ozawa did not recognize the falsehood, according to the ruling.
As with the trials of his aides, the fact that falsified entries on the reports were recognized carries weight. Moreover, the ruling determined that Ozawa had personally approved plans to conceal the funds that he himself had provided for the land purchase.
Clearly, his behavior runs counter to the spirit of the law to clarify the flow of political funds, thereby contributing to the sound development of democratic politics.
During the trial, Ozawa declared that his interest centered on national affairs and that he never looked at his political fund reports and found no need to do so.
FULFILL EXPLANATION RESPONSIBILITY
If that was indeed the case, we argued that Ozawa was unfit to be a politician because the problem of politics and money has been a longstanding issue. The ruling also stated that it is "undesirable in light of the spirit of the law."
Quite simply, Ozawa's political responsibility is being questioned. How is he going to answer? He cannot shy away from this on grounds that being acquitted means he doesn't need to explain himself.
Although this trial did not address the issue, the rulings against his former aides determined that Ozawa's office--known as "voices from heaven"--decided which companies would win contracts for public works projects and received huge sums of money in the form of donations and off-the-book funds.
Ozawa once promised to attend the Diet’s Deliberative Council on Political Ethics. He should make good on the pledge and fulfill his responsibility, not as a defendant but as a politician eager to explain himself to the public.
We also have something to say to the DPJ.
DPJ Secretary-General Azuma Koshiishi promptly indicated plans to reinstate Ozawa’s qualification as a party member. But there are other things the party needs to deal with first.
Instead of allowing lawmakers to feign innocence with excuses that they left matters to their aides, the party must take measures to require them to be responsible for the contents of their political fund reports. Fund management organizations should be also integrated to make the flow of funds more transparent.
Even though the Ozawa case clearly showed the need to fill loopholes in the Political Fund Control Law, little progress has been made in this regard. The abolition of donations from companies and organizations listed in the DPJ’s manifesto also remains in limbo.
The "Ozawa problem" arose from antiquated, diseased politics that paid almost no heed to the need for reform. Can't the DPJ see that by ignoring this problem, the rift between politics and the public is spreading?
With Ozawa’s mandatory indictment, public interest focused on judicial development and whether or not Ozawa was actually a criminal.
However, now that the ruling has been handed down, the focus of the "Ozawa problem" should return to square one. This is a deep-seated political problem that should be debated in the Diet.
If Ozawa tries to use the court as an excuse to evade addressing his own responsibility in the Diet, we believe that the lawyers appointed to serve as prosecutors need not stick to appealing the case.
The focal point of the prosecution inquest panel comprising citizens was for a court of law to decide whether or not Ozawa was innocent in the absence of a case being brought against him by public prosecutors. That demand has been met. Furthermore, the trial shed light on the way Ozawa's office is run and provided a precious lesson for future discussions on political reform.
PROSECUTORS SHOULD APOLOGIZE
The trial also revealed serious problems with the way prosecutors build cases.
Many of the statements obtained in the course of investigation were not admitted in court on grounds they were obtained by irregular means. Not only that, prosecutors had prepared investigative reports which included conversations that actually did not occur. Such behavior must not be tolerated.
We call on judicial and prosecution authorities to promptly look into facts, clarify the causes and background of the irregularities and apologize to the public. Citizens are casting a strict eye to determine whether "prosecution reform" is for real or not.
What we are concerned about is that some people close to Ozawa are demanding that the mandatory indictment system be re-examined.
It is too rash to debate the propriety of a whole system with only one case. We cannot support such moves, whose political intent is obvious.
--The Asahi Shimbun, April 27
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