Ensure justice in Mr. Ozawa’s trial

The proceedings of the trial of former Democratic Party of Japan leader Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, which began in October, ended March 19 as he entered his final plea of innocence and his defense counsel made its closing arguments. On March 9, court-appointed lawyers acting as prosecutors had demanded three years’ imprisonment for Mr. Ozawa for allegedly violating the Political Funds Control Law. It is hoped that the Tokyo District Court will give a convincing ruling based on solid evidence, not on suspicions. The ruling is expected on April 26.

Mr. Ozawa is charged with conspiring with three of his former secretaries to falsify reports submitted by his political fund management body, Rikuzankai, in 2004 and 2005 over a ¥400 million land deal in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. Mr. Ozawa took out ¥400 million in bank loans by using ¥400 million of his own funds as collateral.

The prosecution argued that the bank loans were intended to hide the sources of Mr. Ozawa’s ¥400 million in personal funds. But there is little concrete evidence to prove Mr. Ozawa’s guilt. The court-appointed lawyers cannot even show when the conspiracy took place. To prove his involvement in a conspiracy, they resorted to a 2003 Supreme Court ruling that recognized that a gang boss was criminally guilty of conspiring with his bodyguard to arm the latter with a handgun even though there was no evidence to determine a time, date and place of the conspiracy.

In February, the court rejected a key report by public prosecutors of testimony by former Ozawa secretary Mr. Tomohiro Ishikawa — who purportedly played a key role in the alleged conspiracy — in which he asked Mr. Ozawa if he could falsify a Rikuzankai report and received his approval. At that time the court said that public prosecutors with the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office had employed “illegal and unjust” interrogation methods.

Although prosecutors of the office’s special investigation squad launched the investigation against Mr. Ozawa, they decided not to indict him due to lack of evidence. That decision was overridden and he was later indicted on the strength of a vote by a prosecution inquest committee — an 11-member citizens’ judicial panel-under a system introduced in May 2009. But during the trial it was shown that the public prosecutors’ reports on which the panel’s vote was based were erroneous.

Although the court has to deal with many factors, it must uphold the principle that no punishment should be meted out when uncertainty exists about guilt