Ozawa vows to fight on as DPJ puts on brave face

At convention, kingpin denies shady funding

by Jun Hongo

Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa vowed Saturday to fight on despite the arrests of his key aides over a political funds scandal that could hurt voter support ahead of July’s Upper House election.

During the DPJ’s annual convention in Tokyo, Ozawa accused prosecutors of conducting an “unacceptable” investigation that has resulted in the arrests of three of his former aides for failing to declare in his political funds report ¥400 million that was used to buy a Tokyo land plot in 2004.

Prosecutors suspect that part of the money may have come from illegal donations from construction companies in return for favors in a dam construction project in Iwate Prefecture, Ozawa’s political base.

Ozawa, who had remained tight-lipped on the land deal, told the convention that he will fight and seek justice.

“There might have been miscalculations or errors on records, but typically such issues are let off after making revisions and corrections in most cases,” Ozawa said.

The DPJ kingpin explained that the ¥400 million purchase of the Tokyo plot was funded by his own hard-earned assets and not, as reported, by shady donations from construction companies.

“This isn’t an irregular fund at all,” Ozawa said, adding he has decided to confront the prosecutors not only to clear his name but to ensure proper investigative procedures are established.

The arrests of Ozawa’s former secretaries Friday — including DPJ lawmaker Tomohiro Ishikawa — came three days before the opening of the ordinary Diet session.

The fallout from the developments dominated the party’s annual event Saturday, as speculation grew that Ozawa’s time in office could be limited.

But DPJ executives at the convention put on a brave face and called on party members to unite with the aim of bringing about change in the nation’s politics.

“As the chief of the DPJ, I believe in Ozawa,” Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said, insisting the party should concentrate on carrying out its duties in the ruling camp.

“We will not be discouraged, and we will not be defeated. I promise to answer the calls from the public,” Hatoyama said.

New Party Daichi’s Muneo Suzuki, a guest at the event, backed Ozawa and the DPJ by blasting prosecutors and accusing them of “running wild.”

“To think that prosecutors are fair is a big mistake,” said Suzuki, who himself has been involved in a bribery trial.

The convention hit a high note when Suzuki criticized the investigations of Ozawa and urged Hatoyama to deal with “corrupt powers.”

Meanwhile, Social Democratic Party chief Mizuho Fukushima, a guest at the convention, caused minor unrest by effectively pushing Ozawa to come clean to the public and explain the shady fund transfers.

“The public is requesting a sincere explanation over the ongoing issue,” Fukushima said in her speech, to a weak response from the audience.