MATSUYAMA, Ehime Pref. – Prosecutors apologized Friday to a man from Ehime Prefecture for wrongly accusing him of illegally withdrawing 500,000 yen from a bank account and keeping him in custody for more than a year.
The Matsuyama District Public Prosecutor’s Office made the apology after asking the Uwajima Branch of the Matsuyama District Court to acquit the man — an extremely rare move for prosecutors.
Authorities investigating the case are holding another suspect, who has admitted the theft.
“We have caused enormous pain to you as a result of your year in confinement and we deeply apologize,” the prosecution said in a statement, adding that the office is asking the court to find the 51-year-old man innocent in the case.
Ehime Prefectural Police also apologized to the man they wrongly accused, admitting errors in their investigation, such as failing to substantiate his confession.
“This is something that should never happen. It is extremely regrettable and I would like to apologize sincerely,” Hajime Higashikawa, head of the force said at a news conference.
Yet, in regard to disciplinary actions against those responsible for the investigation, he said the police would wait for the court ruling and the result of an internal affairs office probe into the case.
According to prefectural police officials, a task force of five officers reviewed the investigation report and interviewed those involved in the case.
As a result, they found the man’s confession was not sufficiently substantiated, officials said. They also contended the investigation was carried out without malicious intent and that the interrogation was legal.
In the trial, prosecutors had been demanding a 30-month prison term for the man. The man told the court: “I had a hard time the past year. I want them (the investigative authorities) to properly investigate” the case.
At a news conference after the court session, he told reporters that he was not in the mood to congratulate himself on the prosecutor’s not-guilty request.
“The apology was not sufficient. I want them to issue an apology in a more formal way, such as in writing,” he said.
He also demanded a personal apology from police, adding that they need to be properly educated on how to conduct an interrogation.
The man was released Feb. 21 after the new suspect was arrested in Kochi Prefecture in January.
Prosecutors asked the court to allow them to submit a confession signed by a 61-year-old man, who was arrested in neighboring Kochi Prefecture and was later indicted on theft and other charges.
Matsuyama prosecutors believe the Kochi man is the culprit in the theft in which the Ehime man was initially suspected. Neither man has been identified.
The Ehime man was arrested in February 1999 on suspicion of stealing a deposit note and a personal seal from a friend’s house in Uwajima and then withdrawing 500,000 yen from a farm cooperative.
Police said the man admitted the charges shortly after his arrest, but then pleaded innocent during his trial.