Former Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa should be indicted over falsified reports from his political fund management body, an independent judicial panel announced Monday.

The decision to indict the political heavyweight came after the 11-member Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution concluded in April that Ozawa should be charged over political funds reports for 2004 and 2005 that were allegedly falsified by Rikuzankai, his fund management body.

The second decision means Ozawa is certain to become the first politician to be charged under the system.

Ozawa appeared to be undaunted.

“I am confident of proving my innocence at trial,” he said in a statement released through his office.

Ozawa also said he told the prosecutors everything and called the panel’s decision “extremely regrettable.”

Given the development, the DPJ-led government appeared wary about the potential impact from Ozawa’s indictment.

“I have no grasp of the situation, I refrain from making comments at this stage,” Prime Minister Naoto Kan told reporters in Brussels, where he is attending a meeting of Asian and European leaders.

Other heavyweights in the government and ruling party also appeared cautious.

“I am very surprised, and believe it was very unfortunate,” DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada told a news conference at party headquarters.

Asked by reporters whether the party intended to take any action against Ozawa, Okada said he has yet to decide.

“The (committee’s announcement) just came out and I haven’t consulted the party yet. I also believe (Ozawa) should indicate his own intentions before anything else,” Okada said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku also declined to elaborate, except to say the accused should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

“I am not in a position to comment on the contents” of the committee’s decision, he said.

Transport minister Sumio Mabuchi also tried to dodge the question, telling reporters that Ozawa should decide his own fate and no one should force anything on him.

But the Liberal Democratic Party, the main opposition force, was quick to take advantage of the opportunity to blast the ruling DPJ. Ozawa was also the LDP’s secretary general during its prolonged rule.

LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki told reporters after the announcement that Ozawa should resign as a lawmaker.

The citizens’ panel was reviewing previous decisions by prosecutors who cited a lack of evidence in opting not to indict the DPJ power broker over allegations of false financial reporting by Rikuzankai in 2004 and 2005.

Prosecutors’ reinvestigation “did not go beyond formalities” and was therefore insufficient, the panel said in its second decision, adding that their decisions not to indict Ozawa for Political Funds Control Law violations are questionable given statements made by his aides.

The inquest panel concluded in April that a conspiracy between Ozawa and three former aides linked to Rikuzankai was “strongly suspected” and therefore merited indictment.

By the end of July, all 11 members of the inquest committee who made the decision in April had been replaced. However, the new panel reached the same decision that Ozawa should be indicted.

An indictment requires a consensus of at least eight members.

The three former aides, including Lower House lawmaker Tomohiro Ishikawa and Takanori Okubo, have already been indicted for failing to specify ¥400 million in loans from Ozawa by Rikuzankai in its financial reports for 2004 and 2005.

Regarding a separate case of allegedly false reporting by Rikuzankai in 2007, Tokyo prosecutors on Sept. 30 decided again not to indict Ozawa, putting an end to the probe for the 2007 report.

The prosecutors had decided to reopen the 2007 case after the Tokyo No. 1 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution urged them to reopen it in July, stating that it was unnatural to judge that Ozawa’s aides unilaterally falsified the funds report without his approval.

In a case where an individual is automatically indicted upon the decision of the inquest committee, an outside lawyer will serve as prosecutor, according to the revised Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution Law, which took effect in May last year.

Given the inquest committee’s decision Monday, the Tokyo District Court will now ask one of the three bar associations in Tokyo to recommend one or more lawyers to assume that role. Since the Ozawa case is a major one, more than one lawyer will likely be designated as prosecutor.

The designated lawyers will hold the same authority as normal prosecutors and must indict Ozawa. The exact details of the charges, as well as the timing for Ozawa’s indictment, is up to them to decide, according to the court.

Each lawyer will be paid between ¥190,000 to ¥1.2 million until the ruling is made.

Information from Kyodo added

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