Court case raises questions

The Tokyo High Court on March 13 upheld a lower court conviction of three former aides of former Democratic Party of Japan chief Mr. Ichiro Ozawa for falsifying financial reports of his politician funds management body, Rikuzankai, in 2004, 2005 and 2007.

In the Rikuzankai case, Mr. Ozawa was indicted as well on a charge of conspiring with the aides for financial report falsification. Mr. Ozawa’s acquittal was finalized after the same high court in November 2012 acquitted him, upholding the Tokyo District Court’s April 2012 not-guilty ruling.

The development of the trial of Mr. Ozawa’s three aides, who were given suspended sentences, coupled with the great political repercussions caused by the Rikuzankai case, underlines the need for the high court — and the entire judiciary for that matter — to examine whether their trial was fair.

In September 2011, the Tokyo District Court gave the three men suspended prison terms for falsifying the Rikuzankai reports in violation of the Political Funds Control Law. The case mainly revolves around entries on ¥400 million Riuzankai borrowed from Mr. Ozawa in October 2004 to buy a plot of land in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo.

The lower court ruling, which pointed out that Mr. Ozawa did not give clear explanations about where the ¥400 million came from, was characterized by the use of many presumptive phrases. In one such example, it said that “it can be presumed” that Mr. Ozawa’s office, by making false entries, tried to hide the borrowing of the ¥400 million, whose sources were unclear.

The district court also accepted the prosecution’s allegation that Mr. Tomohiro Ishikawa, one of the three aides, received ¥500 million in October 2004 and Mr. Takanori Okubo, another of the three aides, another ¥50 million in April 2005 from the president of Mizutani Construction Co. over a dam construction project in Iwate Prefecture, where Mr. Ozawa’s electoral district is located.

If the ruling is correct, it is a serious case of a politician receiving money under the table. But oddly enough, no one was indicted in connection with the Mizutani money.

The Tokyo High Court concluded the hearings after only two sessions. It basically accepted the facts determined by the district court, although it decided that only Mr. Ishikawa received the Mizutani money.

The high court rejected all the new evidence presented by the defense counsel, including a statement by the Mizutani president that a prosecutor’s leading questions led him to confess that he had handed the ¥50 million to Mr. Ishikawa.

The high court ruling said that the acceptance of the ¥50 million from Mizutani was part of the motive for Mr. Ishikawa to try to hide the sources of the ¥400 million from Mr. Ozawa through report falsification. But the prosecution has not presented evidence that shows the sources of Mr. Ozawa’s money.

The trials of the Rikuzankai case by both the district and high courts were conducted in a manner that raises suspicions. It is imperative that the Supreme Court hand down a ruling that is credible and convincing.