Prosecutor ignored evidence: report

Poor oversight made problem even worse

by Setsuko Kamiya

An Osaka prosecutor who tampered with evidence to try to convict a former senior welfare ministry official failed to consider the weight of the evidence that favored the accused, the Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office admitted in a report Friday.

The nation’s top prosecutor’s office also admitted offices higher in the chain of command failed to keep a close enough eye on the situation.

Behind Tsunehiko Maeda’s actions was the pressure he was under to indict the welfare ministry official by his superiors in the special investigation unit of the Osaka District Public Prosecutor’s Office, the report says.

“We deeply regret this grave incident, and would like to apologize again to Ms. (Atsuko) Muraki and the public,” Tetsuo Ito, a senior official in the Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office, said at a news conference.

The report was compiled by 18 members of the office, with advice from three outside legal experts. The office said it interviewed 130 people to compile the report, which was submitted to a justice minister’s private panel reviewing prosecutors offices.

As part of reforms to prevent future evidence tampering, the top office also said major crimes handled by special units at the district level will be placed under the control of a high public prosecutor’s office.

Interrogations performed by special units at the district level will be videotaped, the office said. It plans to determine guidelines for such videotaping by the end of March. Special units exist in the Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya district prosecutor’s offices.

Friday’s report also said prosecutors will be re-educated to instill in them the mind-set to “have the courage to withdraw” and drop a case even during a trial, if evidence clearly shows winning a conviction was impossible.

Preventive steps also include assigning an assistant prosecutor, in addition to the primary prosecutor, to check for suspicious evidence, the report says.

In the Maeda case, the former senior welfare ministry official was indicted for abusing the postal discount system for disabled people. She was acquitted and Maeda was fired.

Separately, the government has named Haruo Kasama, chief prosecutor in the Tokyo High Public Prosecutor’s Office, as the nation’s top prosecutor Friday and tasked him with reforming the prosecutorial system in the wake of the evidence tampering case.

Kasama, 62, will become prosecutor general at the Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office effective Monday, succeeding Hiroshi Obayashi, who stepped down to take the blame for the scandal.

Hiroshi Ozu, 61, chief of the Sapporo High Public Prosecutor’s Office, will become Kasama’s deputy chief. Yoshinobu Onuki, 62, chief prosecutor at the Nagoya High Public Prosecutor’s Office, will take over from Kasama at the Tokyo office. These appointments will also take effect Monday.

Kasama has extensive experience in prosecution services, but unlike many of his predecessors, including Obayashi, he has never worked in the Justice Ministry.

Information added from Kyodo