Three former secretaries of Democratic Party of Japan kingpin Ichiro Ozawa were given suspended prison terms Monday for making false entries in the financial reports of Ozawa’s political fund management body Rikuzankai in 2004, 2005 and 2007.
The outcome is likely to influence a separate trial for Ozawa that is scheduled to start on Oct. 6. The former DPJ leader is being charged for alleged involvement in breaking the Political Funds Control Law.
Ozawa, a 69-year-old backroom politician who still wields considerable clout within the ruling party, has had his party membership suspended over the incident.
The Tokyo District Court sentenced Lower House lawmaker Tomohiro Ishikawa, 38, to a two-year prison term, suspended for three years, while Takanori Okubo, 50, was given a three-year term, suspended for five years. Mitsutomo Ikeda, 34, was handed a one-year prison term, suspended for three years.
Ishikawa and his defense lawyers said they will appeal the ruling to the Tokyo High Court.
In his ruling, presiding Judge Ikuro Toishi said making false entries in political funds records is a heinous crime and goes against the law that demands accuracy in the flow of political funds.
“In recent years, efforts were made to reduce corruption and regain public trust toward politics by revising and tightening the Political Funds Control Law, but (the crimes) have increased the public’s suspicion toward political activities and the flow of political funds,” he said.
“But the defendants have made unreasonable explanations and have strongly denied their responsibility, and they did not show any regret,” he said.
The ruling came as somewhat of a surprise because the trial seemed to have taken a turn in the defendants’ favor in June when an audio recording of Ishikawa’s voluntary interrogation was disclosed and used as evidence.
The court strongly criticized prosecutors for using threats and guiding Ishikawa’s replies with loaded questions, and rejected several statements he made and parts of the interrogation records as evidence.
On Monday, however, the court did not mention this issue in its ruling.
The case involved an entry dealing with ¥400 million that Rikuzankai borrowed from Ozawa in October 2004 to buy a plot of land in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward.
The court said in its ruling that Ishikawa deliberately cooked the books to avoid making the transaction public, and it was reasonable to believe that Okubo shared this view.
The prosecution did not put forward enough evidence to clarify the nature of where the ¥400 million came from, the court said, but the fact that neither Ishikawa nor Okubo, and even Ozawa himself, have provided a clear explanation about the origins of the money was enough to make the court believe their motive was to hide the source of the money.
The court also accepted the prosecution’s argument that Ishikawa and Okubo received ¥100 million in donations from Mizutani Construction at Okubo’s request in return for hiring it as a subcontractor for a dam project in Iwate, Ozawa’s home prefecture. Both defendants strongly denied taking money from Mizutani Construction.
Prosecutors argued that Ishikawa, who was one of Ozawa’s secretaries at the time and who was responsible for keeping records of all transactions, allegedly conspired with Okubo and made the entry for the amount in the 2005 report instead of the 2004 report, and did so in order to hide the ¥100 million donation from Mizutani Construction.
As for Ikeda, who inherited the job of managing Rikuzankai’s reports from Ishikawa, the court said he also falsely declared a donation of some ¥350 million in Rikuzankai’s 2005 report, even though no donation was received, and also failed to report some ¥400 million as an expenditure in the 2007 Rikuzankai report, when the fund actually paid that amount back to Ozawa that year.
Prosecutors had demanded 2 years in prison for Ishikawa and a year for Ikeda. For Okubo, the most senior of the three figures, the prosecution demanded a 3½-year term.
All three defendants pleaded not guilty.
Meanwhile, the court also ruled Monday that Okubo disguised ¥35 million in political donations from Nishimatsu Construction Co. as having come from political groups. The court said Ozawa’s office had a strong influence on bid-rigging for construction projects in Iwate and Akita prefectures, and that Okubo, as Ozawa’s chief aide, had the authority to pick the winners.