Staff writer
OSAKA — The game may finally be up for Osaka Gov. “Knock” Yokoyama.
Monday’s search of his offices by the Osaka District Public Prosecutor’s Office in connection with a criminal complaint filed against the governor by a 21-year-old female university student, who accused Yokoyama of groping her inside a campaign van in April, are likely to result in his indictment.
In that event, Yokoyama would almost certainly be forced to step down. After the Osaka Prefectural Assembly passed a motion of censure against him Friday, Yokoyama said, “An indictment (in the criminal case) would be like a court ruling for me.”
As a comedian-turned politician who was re-elected last April with 2.35 million votes — the largest ever for any Osaka governor — Yokoyama should have recognized what the voters of his city would think if the case became public.
Yokoyama’s tactics in an earlier damages lawsuit by the woman — in which he refused to either deny or confirm the allegations in front of the judges while calling the victim a liar outside the courtroom — backfired spectacularly. His image as a man on the same level as the ordinary person was replaced by that of a politician trying to fix problems with the influence of money.
A lawyer who represented the woman in the lawsuit said Yokoyama was trying to end the suit as quickly as possible by not contesting the case in court so that people would forget it as soon as it was over.
Indeed, the damages suit proceedings came to an end exceptionally quickly (less than three months), but Yokoyama had miscalculated public opinion and the court’s ruling.
According to a poll conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun before the ruling on Dec. 13, 61 percent of the respondents said they disagreed with Yokoyama’s tactics in the court, while 50 percent said he should resign if he lost the suit.
The Osaka District Court, in its ruling, severely criticized Yokoyama’s tactics in fighting the lawsuit as an outright challenge to the judicial system.
The court concluded that Yokoyama’s counter-complaint against the woman — in which he claimed that he had been falsely accused — as well as his repeated remarks that the woman’s claim was “obviously a lie,” were more damaging than the act of groping itself.
The court ordered him to pay 8 million yen for the damage caused by the counter-complaint and his remarks, in addition to 2 million yen for the groping and 1 million yen to cover the victim’s legal fees.
Effectively ignoring the proceedings, Yokoyama continued to claim that the truth would come out through the pending criminal investigation, apparently in the hope that prosecutors would not take up the case as there was little evidence other than the testimony of the woman herself.
But he was wrong.
“Even now, Yokoyama probably thinks he has done nothing wrong and he does not understand the ruling criticizing him because he has no idea of women’s human rights,” said Junko Kuninobu, a professor of women’s studies at Aichi Shukutoku University. “(The woman’s case) is rare because it is the only one that has surfaced among many others that have occurred,” she said.
Yokoyama has admitted that he sat next to the woman under a blanket in the back seat of the campaign van. According to his explanation, he covered the woman, then one of his part-time campaign staff, with the blanket because she was sick and Yokoyama himself felt a little cold.
“I did not think the situation was wrong at all. It was nothing but natural (to sit together under one blanket),” Yokoyama said.
But Yoneko Matsuura, a member of the Mihariban local citizens’ group, believes otherwise. “We are ashamed to have a governor who has different standards of human rights.
“He should have resigned before things got so ugly.” She added that people close to the governor should have advised him to step down much earlier.
Matsuura said public opinion is one factor that pushed the prosecutor’s office to act. Together with other citizens’ groups, Mihariban distributed more than 1,500 postcards addressed to the prosecutor’s office accusing the governor of groping the woman.
She said citizens’ groups were forced to take such action because the prefectural assembly was not doing its job.
Even after Yokoyama lost the damages suit, the assembly merely passed a nonbinding motion of censure, although it did also urge him to resign should he be indicted by prosecutors.
On Monday evening, Yasuyuki Yokokura, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Osaka chapter, said that it is best that the governor decides what to do himself.
Together with other parties, the LDP, the largest force in the prefectural assembly, voted down a no-confidence motion submitted last Friday by the Japanese Communist Party and another motion recommending that Yokoyama resign.

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