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OSAKA — Former Osaka Gov. “Knock” Yokoyama’s molestation trial will be concluded Thursday with the defense’s final statement, following prosecutors’ demand last Tuesday for an 18-month prison term.

A ruling is expected as early as next month.

During his re-election campaign in March 1999, then Osaka Gov. “Knock” Yokoyama gives a speech in Chuo Ward. Although he won the second term with 2.35 million votes, he was forced to step down nine months later when he was indicted for groping a femal campaign aide.

While the court is believed certain to find Yokoyama guilty of molesting a 22-year-old female college student who worked as a campaign worker on his re-election bid in April last year, the focus of attention is on whether he will receive a suspended sentence.

Although Yokoyama, in an about-face from his earlier position, pleaded guilty at the first hearing of the trial in March, his defense continues to dispute prosecutors’ allegations on a number of points.

Yokoyama has admitted that he groped the woman in the back seat of a campaign van in the afternoon of April 8, 1999. He said he went so far as to touch her genitalia, putting his right hand inside her underwear.

Beyond that, the two sides differ quite a lot.

First, prosecutors claimed that Yokoyama groped the woman for 30 minutes, while Yokoyama said the act lasted 10 minutes.

Prosecutors charge that Yokoyama started fondling the woman as soon as he got in the van and covered her and himself with a blanket that he had brought from another van. A few minutes after Yokoyama got aboard the van, it stopped at a gas station for a lavatory stop. He groped the woman before and after the break, they said.

But Yokoyama told the court that he fondled her only after the gas station stop and after he smoked a cigarette in the van. And he hurriedly pulled back his hand from the woman’s genitalia as soon as she said she was in her menstrual period, Yokoyama said, insisting the whole act took about 10 minutes.

The woman denied she spoke to him while she was being molested.

Another point of disagreement is whether the crime was premeditated.

Prosecutors alleged that it was clear Yokoyama stepped into the van with the intention of molesting the woman because he had molested another female campaign worker two days earlier in the same manner.

Katsuko Terasawa, a lawyer for the woman, said Yokoyama’s repeated gropings show the governor planned the act in advance, adding that the other campaign worker did not wish her case to be made public.

Yokoyama denied the act had been premeditated and claimed he initially did not intend to act obscenely but only to comfort the woman, who was ill that day. As he rubbed her thigh, Yokoyama became randy and inserted his right hand inside the woman’s trousers because she did not seem to be resisting, he said.

Another dispute is over whether she resisted being molested.

Prosecutors claimed that although the woman did not cry out for help or push back Yokoyama because of fear of reprisal by the powerful governor, she tried to keep her legs shut, which was the most she could do. But with his left hand, Yokoyama pulled her left leg away from the right so he could get his right hand into her underwear, they said.

Yokoyama claimed that he could insert his right hand without any difficulty while putting his left hand on his knee. He said he could not sense the woman’s rebuff.

He told the court that he knew the woman would not consent to his behavior. However, when prosecutors asked, “Then, don’t you think the woman was disgusted (by your act)?” Yokoyama only said, “I don’t know.”

Another major disagreement is whether Yokoyama tried to keep the woman silent by offering her a gift and dinner.

Prosecutors argued that Yokoyama said to the woman after groping her, “I have bought a (Louis) Vuitton bag and wallet for your birthday. Leave (April) 13th free. Let’s go out for dinner (on that day).”

Prosecutors quoted the woman as asking him, “How could you be allowed to do such a thing?” They claimed that he responded by saying, “It’s a secret. Don’t tell anyone.”

The woman’s birthday was several days before the incident, and April 13 — two days after the election day — was Yokoyama’s free day.

Yokoyama denied having such a conversation with the victim.

Legal experts said a groping conviction, if it is a first offense, usually results in a suspended sentence. It is widely believed that Yokoyama pleaded guilty because he wants a suspended sentence.

Still, past cases indicate Yokoyama’s continued denial of his victim’s claim may work to his disadvantage.

In a different molestation case tried before the Tokyo District Court, a 40-year-old teacher at a junior high school in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward was handed a 14-month prison term in May because a victim — a high school girl — had to testify in an out-of-courtroom session after the teacher pleaded not guilty.

The court said that although it was not before the open court, the victim, besides the fear of the molestation, suffered serious mental damage because she was forced to describe the details of the incident.

In Yokoyama’s case, the victim had to testify in court, shrouded by screens to protect her privacy, because his defense did not agree to accept her deposition.

Prosecutors blame Yokoyama’s lack of remorse, saying he is trying to seek leniency with irrational claims and has not apologized to the woman directly.

The woman has released a statement that she wants the court to hand down a severe prison sentence to Yokoyama.