Prosecutors protect their own

The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office on July 31 decided not to indict a former prosecutor with the special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office. Mr. Masahiro Tashiro was accused of falsifying a report on a suspect’s oral testimony over the alleged falsification of fund reports of Rikuzankai, a political funds management body of former Democratic Party of Japan chief Ichiro Ozawa.

It is the second time that the office has decided not to indict Mr. Tashiro, and the decision is final.

The public is unlikely to accept the decision because evidence clearly shows that Mr. Tashiro falsified the report. Apparently the highest prosecution authorities gave priority to protecting a former public prosecutor, and thus the prosecutors’ office itself as part of the government bureaucracy. If Mr. Tashiro had been indicted, the supreme public prosecutor could have been forced to resign, causing serious damage to the prosecution.

Mr. Tashiro first interrogated Mr. Tomohiro Ishikawa, a former secretary to Mr. Ozawa and a former Lower House member, after his arrest on Jan. 15, 2010, in connection with the Rikuzankai case. On May 17 that year, he again questioned Mr. Ishikawa, who had been released on bail, on a voluntary basis, after the Tokyo No. 5 Prosecution Inquest Committee — a citizens’ 11-member panel — voted on April 27 that year (the first time) for indicting Mr. Ozawa.

Shortly afterward, Mr. Tashiro wrote a report on a question-and-answer form about Mr. Ishikawa’s latest testimony. But because Mr. Ishikawa secretly recorded the questioning, it became clear that he had falsified his report.

In Mr. Tashiro’s report, Mr. Ishikawa is quoted as saying that Mr. Tashiro had told him during an earlier interrogation (in January or February 2010) that if he (Mr. Ishikawa) told a lie to protect Mr. Ozawa, it would be betrayal of the people who elected him to the Lower House. The report also quotes Mr. Ishikawa as saying that the statement by Mr. Tashiro had such a strong effect on him that he confessed (in the earlier interrogation) that he had reported the falsification of fund reports to Mr. Ozawa and got his approval.

But the secret recording shows that Mr. Ishikawa did not make these statements during the interrogation on May 17, 2010.

On Jan. 12, 2012, a citizens’ group filed an accusation against Mr. Tashiro for falsifying his report. But on June 27, 2012, the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office decided not to indict him, and he resigned as a public prosecutor.

On April 19, 2013, the Tokyo No. 1 Prosecution Inquest Committee decided that the decision not to indict him was unjust. On July 31, the highest prosecution authorities decided again not to indict him. The inquest committee cannot overrule the nonindictment decision since its April 19 decision was not supported by a two-third majority of its members.

In its two decisions, the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office repeated Mr. Tashiro’s assertion that he had mixed up what Mr. Ishikawa allegedly said during questioning that took place in early 2010 with what he said on May 17 that year. But it is hard to believe that a public prosecutor would make such a mistake. The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office also refused to question Mr. Ishikawa before its second decision not to indict Mr. Tashiro on the grounds that he insisted on recording the session.

The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office’s July 31 decision shows that it cannot properly conduct investigations of alleged wrongdoings by members of the prosecution authorities. A third-party body should be established to conduct independent investigations in such cases. In addition, interrogations should be electronically recorded in their entirety to prevent falsified reports of oral statements as well as abusive interrogation practices.