Ozawa to stay on as DPJ leader

Head of the main opposition party brushes off aide's indictment for taking illegal donations

Compiled From Staff Report, Kyodo

Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa announced Tuesday he will not resign as head of the largest opposition force despite his chief secretary’s indictment for alleged illegal fundraising activities.

“I would like to keep doing my best to meet the expectations of myself, the DPJ and all of the people,” Ozawa told a late-night news conference.

DPJ executives met to endorse Ozawa’s decision to stay on.

Ozawa’s chief secretary, Takanori Okubo, was indicted for allegedly violating the Political Funds Control Law.

Rikuzankai, Ozawa’s political funds management body, of which Okubo is chief accountant, allegedly accepted ¥21 million in illicit donations from Nishimatsu Construction Co. Corporations are prohibited by law from contributing to individual politicians.

The money was reportedly donated through what prosecutors claim were two dummy bodies of Nishimatsu.

Tuesday marked the end of Okubo’s custody period, by which time prosecutors had to either indict or free him.

Ozawa and the DPJ have maintained it was impossible to trace the sources of the funds behind the political organizations before receiving the money.

They have also complained the arrest of a secretary for erroneous entries in a political funding report was unprecedented and unfair, given that a Lower House election must be held by fall.

Tokyo prosecutors, however, reportedly believe they have witnesses’ statements that will prove Okubo was aware his acts were illegal.

Also indicted was former Nishimatsu President Mikio Kunisawa, 70. Another man arrested in the case, Akifumi Okazaki, 67, a former senior employee of Nishimatsu, was released without charge.

Sources close to Nishimatsu have said the company donated the money because it wanted to maintain a friendly relationship with Ozawa. He wields huge influence over public works contracts in the Tohoku region, his home district.

As of August, Nishimatsu had 10 subsidiaries and eight affiliates nationwide, and the prosecutors believe these firms, including its real estate arm, Shoei Fudosan Co., may have been used to purchase tickets for Ozawa’s fundraising parties.

The prosecutors suspect the scheme was designed to make Nishimatsu less conspicuous in Ozawa’s political funding reports, given the legal requirement that a buyer of party tickets worth more than ¥200,000 must be disclosed.

Members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Cabinet ministers slammed the DPJ for letting Ozawa continue on the condition that his secretary’s charge was only a violation of the political funds law.

“I don’t think the Political Funds Control Law is such a lightweight law,” said Seiko Noda, minister of consumers’ affairs.

Party executives such as DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama and Deputy Chief Naoto Kan have scurried to ensure that party members stay unified and back Ozawa as their leader from early on.

With a general election to be held sometime before the fall when the Lower House term ends, many DPJ lawmakers seemed to think it better not to rock the boat.

But despite the efforts made by the party executives calling for solidarity, some voices of frustration have been heard.