Ozawa faces appeal over his acquittal

DPJ kingpin not yet in clear to flex clout anew

by Natsuko Fukue

Staff Writers

Prosecutors on Wednesday appealed a lower court ruling acquitting former Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa of conspiring with his former aides to falsify financial reports for his political funds management body, Rikuzankai, in 2004 and 2005.

“The lower court ruling contains factual errors. We believe we can convince high court judges to hand down a guilty verdict with a fairly high level of probability,” Shunzo Omuro, one of the three lawyers acting as prosecutors, told at a press conference before the appeal was filed with the Tokyo High Court.

They are in the process of putting together a document that lays out their reasons for the appeal, which will be submitted to the high court, Omuro said.

The three, who were appointed by the district court after a Tokyo inquest committee decided that Ozawa’s case merited indictment, will likely continue to serve as prosecutors in the appeal, Omuro said.

Ozawa’s chief defense lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, said it was regrettable that the court-appointed lawyers were appealing the acquittal.

The appeal comes just a day after the DPJ agreed to reinstate the kingpin’s party membership, which had been suspended since last February following his indictment. The party leaders said the appeal would not affect that decision.

DPJ Deputy Secretary General Shinji Tarutoko said he officially informed Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of the decision to lift Ozawa’s suspension, which he accepted. “I would like to respect the district court ruling while carefully watching over the judiciary procedure,” Tarutoko told reporters after a meeting between the DPJ leaders and top government officials, including Noda.

DPJ policy chief Seiji Maehara, who had opposed lifting the suspension, said he would not try and reverse the decision. “I thought the suspension was until (Ozawa’s) sentencing was finalized, and I did have some reservations, but I already stated what I thought. . . . I have no further opinions over an official decision made by the party’s executive members,” Maehara said.

Despite efforts at reconciliation by Noda, the DPJ remains split between defenders and detractors of Ozawa, who has already expressed his intention to fight the prime minister’s crusade to double the 5 percent consumption tax by 2015.

Maehara urged fellow DPJ lawmakers to stand by decisions made by the party, including lifting Ozawa’s suspension and the tax hike. “What the majority of the public wants is for the DPJ to follow orders and unite once a decision has been made,” Maehara said. “Whether an appeal is made or not (in the courts), everyone must take responsibility for thedecision made by the party in order to regain trust from the public.”

Omuro, one of the court-appointed lawyers, stressed that the three lawyers did not consider the political impact in making their decision to appeal the lower court ruling.

“We never thought about the political impact. We never even talked about it when we discussed whether to appeal,” Omuro said.

His office, he said, fielded numerous phone calls and he talked to more than 100 callers, who were roughly evenly divided on the decision to appeal, according to the lawyer.

The district court ruling on April 26 was the first involving a politician facing charges stemming from a citizens’ panel decision to override public prosecutors, who chose not to indict.

Ozawa pleaded not guilty of the conspiracy.

The trial focussed on whether Ozawa knowingly conspired with his former aides to fabricate Rikuzenkai’s reports on a ¥400 million land deal in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo.

Ozawa’s former secretaries, Tomohiro Ishikawa, Mitsutomo Ikeda and Takanori Okubo, were found guilty in a separate trial in September.

All three were handed suspended prison terms, which they have appealed.