Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, former chief of the Democratic Party of Japan, on Tuesday agreed to appear before the Lower House’s Council on Political Ethics and give unsworn testimony over political funds scandals. His decision, ostensibly for the sake of “party unity,” came too late. But it is better than never.
If he wants to clear himself of suspicion and is confident that he has done nothing wrong, he should squarely answer questions raised against him. They include whether he ordered his aides to drop entry of a fund used to buy a parcel of Tokyo land in 2004 from official reports, whether it is legal for his political funds management body to purchase and own large tracts of land worth some ¥800 million as of the end of 2009, and whether his distribution of a total of ¥442 million to 89 DPJ candidates for the 2009 Lower House election out of funds left behind by the Shinseito Party, disbanded in 1994, is legal.
His three aides have been indicted over the 2004 fund reporting. Mr. Ozawa is also expected to be indicted early next year on a related charge following a citizens’ legal panel’s decision. Citing the expected indictment, he had refused to appear before the Diet ethics panel. With the decision this time, he apparently wants to deflect intraparty pressure on him to leave the party.
There is no guarantee that the strife between the pro- and anti-Ozawa camps in the DPJ will end immediately. Prime Minister Naoto Kan and DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada want Mr. Ozawa to speak before the panel prior to the start of the Diet’s 2011 ordinary session. Mr. Ozawa is considering testifying at the beginning of the session or after the passage of the fiscal 2011 budget, depending on the situation. Mr. Ozawa’s refusal to appear before the panel helped spawn conflicts both within the DPJ and between the DPJ and the opposition. But the DPJ leadership’s poor management of Diet business and Mr. Kan’s shoddy running of the government also deepened political stagnation. Now that Mr. Ozawa has agreed to speak before the panel, Mr. Kan and Mr. Okada should realize that they can no longer use Mr. Ozawa as an excuse for political stagnation. Their ability is to be tested.