Democratic Party of Japan kingpin Ichiro Ozawa on Monday was given the go sign to remain as the party’s secretary general by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama despite mounting public calls that he step down over his fund management body’s involvement in a shady Tokyo land purchase.
“I asked if I could remain in my current post, and the prime minister said yes, he wanted me to continue giving my best,” Ozawa said during his first news conference since his former aide and DPJ lawmaker Tomohiro Ishikawa, along with two other current and former secretaries, were released on bail Friday following their indictment for violating the Political Funds Control Law.
Separately, Hatoyama told reporters he will not seek Ozawa’s resignation from the ruling party’s No. 2 post, although he also acknowledged that Ozawa is politically responsible for his aides’ misreporting of his political funds.
The three aides were indicted for allegedly misreporting political funds involving Ozawa’s fund management body Rikuzankai over a purchase of some land in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. Prosecutors opted not to charge Ozawa due to insufficient evidence.
Apologizing for “the trouble” he caused the public, Ozawa said he believes he has fulfilled his duty in explaining to the public his role in the scandal.
“I’ve been subject to a criminal investigation and been questioned on two occasions by prosecutors, and this is the result — I believe that’s enough to prove that I’m innocent,” he said, blaming unfavorable reporting in the media for his poor rating in opinion polls.
“Now that it’s proven that there weren’t any irregularities on my part, I hope the media would report on my innocence,” he said.
Hatoyama’s endorsement came as the opposition launched a full-scale assault on Ozawa, pressuring Hatoyama to acknowledge Ozawa’s responsibility for alleged misconduct.
“I believe (Ozawa) is feeling responsible for the arrests of the secretaries,” Hatoyama said in response to a question by Liberal Democratic Party member Koichi Kato during a session of the Lower House Budget Committee.
“This is a personal matter, but obviously I think he has some liability,” Hatoyama said.
LDP member Nobutaka Machimura criticized Hatoyama for the way he expressed support for Ozawa during the investigation by prosecutors, telling the Diet committee that the DPJ “is showing signs of arrogance” now that it is in power.
Asked to comment on the latest opinion poll results that show 70 percent of the public feels Ozawa should resign as DPJ secretary general, Hatoyama said earlier in the day that Ozawa will continue addressing the matter in the media if he deems it necessary.
New Komeito policy chief Tetsuo Saito questioned Hatoyama on DPJ lawmaker Tomohiro Ishikawa’s decision not to resign despite being indicted in connection with the scandal.
Kenji Yamaoka, the DPJ’s Diet affairs chief, has rejected holding a vote on a resolution calling for Ishikawa to quit, saying the Diet needs to focus on more pressing issues, such as passing the fiscal 2010 budget.
Saito criticized the prime minister, saying that putting off a decision on how to deal with Ishikawa “is the same as renouncing the responsibilities of a party chief.”
Hatoyama replied that Ishikawa’s arrest and indictment is a grave development, but the lawmaker should decide for himself whether stepping down is warranted.
Ichiro Ozawa said Monday he has asked that the United States give “sufficient time” for President Barack Obama to meet with him if it wants him to visit the country.
The ruling party kingpin made the remark amid reports he is considering visiting the U.S. sometime around the Golden Week holidays after Kurt Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat for Asia, asked him to do so when they met in Tokyo last week.
“If I go over, I would expect that President Obama take sufficient time (to meet with me) and I made that request,” Ozawa said.
He also said he would not engage in policy talks with U.S. officials during the visit, and the trip would be aimed at deepening ties between the DPJ and U.S. Democrats.