On Wednesday three lawyers serving as prosecutors appealed a lower court ruling that had acquitted former Democratic Party of Japan chief Ichiro Ozawa of violating the Political Funds Control Law to the Tokyo High Court. On April 26, the Tokyo District Court found him not guilty of conspiring with his secretaries to falsify financial reports of his political funds management body Rikuzankai.
The lawyers said the decision to appeal the ruling was difficult, especially because that means Mr. Ozawa will remain a criminal defendant despite his acquittal in the first trial. They claim they made the decision on the grounds that the district court made serious mistakes in evaluating the evidence.
Due attention should be paid to the peculiarity of the trial. The special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office carried out an intensive investigation of Mr. Ozawa. The team first tried to charge him with corruption involving a general contractor. After that attempt failed, it tried to charge him with conspiracy to falsify financial reports of his political funds body. But this effort was derailed by insufficient evidence.
Mr. Ozawa was indicted by lawyers serving as prosecutors in January 2011 on the strength of a vote by the Tokyo No. 5 prosecution inquest committee, an 11-member citizens’ judicial panel, which overrode the prosecution office’s decision not to indict him based on the result of a reinvestigation. The Tokyo District Court’s ruling to acquit Mr. Ozawa in the case in which the prosecutorial authorities originally decided not to indict him should carry significant weight as legal judgment.
The prosecution inquest system, in which a citizens’ panel can override the prosecution’s decision not to indict, brings citizens’ perspectives into criminal proceedings. But informed public discussions should be held on whether lawyers serving as prosecutors should be allowed to appeal an acquittal when the indictment was made under the prosecution inquest system.
During Mr. Ozawa’s trial, it surfaced that the decision by the citizens’ panel was based on an investigation report falsified by a public prosecutor. The lawyers who appealed his acquittal ruling must submit new evidence or present convincing arguments to support their position before the appellate court.