OSAKA – The lead prosecutor in the postal-abuse indictment of senior welfare official Atsuko Muraki was arrested Tuesday after he admitted to tampering with data related to the case.
Tsunehiko Maeda, 43, was arrested in a swift move by the Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office, which launched an investigation earlier in the day.
He is suspected of altering the date that information on a floppy disk was updated, sources said. The disk was seized in May 2009 from a Muraki subordinate when he was questioned by other prosecutors, they said.
His act was initially revealed in a newspaper scoop Tuesday morning, sending shock waves through criminal justice circles.
Muraki, 54, was acquitted Sept. 10 in a ruling that prosecutors have decided not to appeal. The acquittal came after the Osaka District Court refused to admit as evidence most depositions by her alleged accomplices and witnesses, saying they may have been coerced by the prosecutors.
The Osaka prosecutors did not submit the floppy disk as evidence, but the alleged falsification of data on it may be a further indication they investigated the case based on preconceived notions, sources said.
At a news conference in Tokyo, Muraki’s lawyer, Junichiro Hironaka, said he and his team will consider filing a criminal complaint against the prosecutors, saying it was “an awful case, if true, that would shake the very foundation of investigations.”
Justice Minister Minoru Yanagida said the tampering is “utterly abhorrent if it is true.”
Muraki was acquitted of instructing the subordinate, 41-year-old Tsutomu Kamimura, who is currently standing trial in his own case, to fabricate and issue an official document for an organization that subsequently used it to abuse the mail discount system for disabled people.
According to the ruling, the Osaka prosecutors’ special investigative unit seized the floppy disk from Kamimura’s home on May 26, 2009. It contained text of the official document and was last updated at 1:20 a.m. on June 1, 2004.
Muraki’s lawyers obtained the contents of the disk later in a form of the prosecutors’ investigative report and submitted it as evidence in the trial. When the disk was returned from the prosecutors, they found that the date had been changed to June 8, 2004, the prosecution sources said.
The prosecutors argued during the trial that Muraki instructed Kamimura to issue the document “in about early June,” but the disk update of shortly past midnight May 31 would have contradicted their argument.
Hironaka said Muraki is hoping to attribute the “terrible” incident to more than the actions of just Maeda, the principal prosecutor in this case.
“It is unprecedented if the prosecutor in person falsified the data to conform to the (assumed) story,” Hironaka said.
Muraki said later at a separate news conference in Tokyo that it is a problem in which trust in prosecutors is at stake.
“I want the truth to be clarified about why this happened. I’m not thinking about pursuing the responsibility of an individual,” she said.
The Supreme Public Prosecutor’s Office has had a team of several prosecutors looking into the case, Deputy Prosecutor General Tetsuo Ito told an impromptu news conference.
The case may not be just a matter of investigative error but a crime if the data were in fact falsified, and could undermine the authority of all public prosecutors if conducted systematically, said Takeshi Tsuchimoto, a professor emeritus at Tsukuba University and a former prosecutor.
“Police used to be involved in faking material evidence, but there has been a sense of trust that prosecutors won’t do that,” Tsuchimoto said. “It concerns the authority of all prosecutors if the falsification took place systematically, and their prestige will be blown away.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.