The Osaka District Court on March 30 found Mr. Hiromichi Otsubo, former head of the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office’s special investigation squad, and his former deputy Mr. Motoaki Saga guilty of covering up evidence tampering by a subordinate, Mr. Tsunehiko Maeda.
The case should not be trivialized as a crime committed by two individuals, but should be regarded as a symptom of problems with the nation’s prosecution as a whole.
The evidence in question was a floppy disk seized in connection with an alleged abuse of a postal discount system for disabled people. Ms. Atsuko Muraki, a former official of the health and welfare ministry, was indicted but was eventually acquitted in September 2010. Mr. Maeda was found guilty of tampering in April 2011.
In their trial, Mr. Otsubo and Mr. Saga, who were given 18 months’ suspended imprisonment, insisted that they only heard that Mr. Maeda had tampered with the floppy disk by mistake. But the court rejected their claim and ruled that they decided to treat deliberate tampering as tampering resulting from a mistake.
Prosecution authorities should heed a statement by presiding judge Hiromichi Iwakura that while both Mr. Otsubo and Mr. Saga greatly harmed people’s trust in the nation’s prosecution, the crime should be regarded as having been spawned by the prosecution’s organizational ills. The two had been indicted by the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office because of the gravity of their crime.
On the basis of eyewitness testimony by other prosecutors, the court decided that Mr. Saga came to learn of the floppy disk tampering during a telephone conversation with Mr. Maeda on the night of Jan. 30, 2010. It also said that Mr. Otsubo received a report about the tampering from Mr. Saga and eventually decided to cover it up. Thus Mr. Otsubo sent a report to his superiors that Mr. Maeda had changed the floppy disk content by mistake, the ruling said.
The biggest problem with this case is that the Osaka Public Prosecutors Office did not publicly announce the tampering when it first learned of it and continued to use the floppy disk as evidence in Ms. Muraki’s trial. It will not be easy for prosecution authorities to regain people’s trust. They should not hesitate to take drastic reform, including electronically recording the entire interrogation process and disclosing all evidence to defense counsels.