Hatoyama: Ozawa to lead Upper House campaign despite fresh grilling

Kyodo News

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said again Tuesday he hopes Ichiro Ozawa will continue to lead the campaign for this summer’s Upper House election despite being mired in a money scandal.

“Given what he has achieved up to now, I certainly would like Secretary General Ozawa to lead (the campaign),” Hatoyama told reporters in front of his official residence.

The comments came after Ozawa told a mews conference Monday he was questioned by prosecutors for a second time over allegations that Rikuzankai, his fund management body, used ¥400 million in off-the-books money to purchase land in Tokyo in October 2004.

Polls indicate that a majority of the public thinks Ozawa should step down from the Democratic Party of Japan’s No. 2 post.

Ozawa, credited with leading the DPJ to victory in last year’s Lower House election, also suggested Monday he may resign if he is ever criminally charged, although he added that he doubts that would actually happen because he has not taken any illegal funds.

“Prosecutors are currently investigating the case and it is most important to watch it calmly,” Hatoyama said Tuesday.

Ozawa resigned as DPJ president last May after a former aide was charged in connection allegedly illegal political donations paid to Rikuzankai by Nishimatsu Construction Co., and Hatoyama replaced him.

Hatoyama reiterated that his earlier remarks urging Ozawa to fight the allegations against him were in no way an effort to sway the prosecutors’ investigation.

“I am aware of my position as head of the administration,” Hatoyama told a plenary session of the Upper House. “I don’t have any intention of exerting influence on the prosecutors’ investigation with my remarks, and I don’t think the remarks had any actual influence.”

Hatoyama was referring to what he said about Ozawa’s comments that he would confront investigative authorities to clear his name over the alleged funding irregularities in connection with the land purchase.