Testimony at ethics panel not under oath


The Democratic Party of Japan’s internal rift is widening by the day on whether DPJ heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa should be summoned to give unsworn testimony before the Lower House Council on Political Ethics about the money scandal for which he faces indictment.

The issue has developed into a power struggle between the Ozawa camp and those close to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, including Secretary General Katsuya Okada.

On Monday, DPJ executives failed to unite in a demand that Ozawa testify before the ethics council and instead only urged him to do so.

Following are questions and answers on why this has become a hot topic and how the ethics panel operates:

Why are Okada and the DPJ leaders adamant that Ozawa should testify before the Diet?

A key reason is they want to avoid a deadlock in deliberating the fiscal 2011 budget in the legislative session that convenes next month.

During the extraordinary session that ended Dec. 3, opposition parties repeatedly demanded an explanation from Ozawa. The Liberal Democratic Party, the largest opposition force, insisted he give sworn testimony before the Lower House Budget Committee, but other parties would be satisfied with unsworn testimony before the symbolic ethics panel, which is considered a forum for lawmakers under suspicion to give an explanation to the Diet and thus the public.

There are also strong public calls for Ozawa to testify.

According to a poll conducted by the Sankei Shimbun and Fuji News Network over the weekend, 70.5 percent of the respondents said Ozawa should testify before the Diet.

He initially said he would do so if asked but reversed himself when it became certain he would face trial in line with the October decision by an independent judicial panel that he be indicted.

Ozawa apparently wants to avoid having any testimony he gives in the Diet used against him in court.

How does the ethics council function?

Each Diet chamber has its own 25-member ethics panel to look into alleged wrongdoing by an elected politician of that chamber. The targeted lawmaker can either offer a voluntary explanation or be summoned to provide testimony, which is unsworn.

The council can summon the lawmaker if so demanded by a third or more of its members, and then a majority agrees.

Of the 25 Lower House council members, 17 are from the DPJ, meaning Ozawa won’t be asked to stand before the council unless the DPJ agrees to it. This is why Okada is trying to get the party as a whole to press for Ozawa’s testimony.

But Ozawa’s allies in the party, including ethics council members, are resisting. And even if the DPJ issues an outright demand for Ozawa to be summoned, he can refuse because the council has no binding power.

The Lower House ethics panel was established in 1985 after former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka was convicted of taking bribes from Lockheed Corp. to pressure All Nippon Airways into purchasing its aircraft.

Ironically, Ozawa was then chief of the Lower House Rules and Administration Committee, which coordinated the council’s establishment in the lower chamber. He was an LDP member at the time.

Has the panel convened in the past?

Yes, eight times. Former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto testified in November 2004 over his alleged involvement in concealing a ¥100 million political donation from the Japan Dental Association.

Former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka testified in July 2002 on allegations that she misappropriated the government-paid salaries of her secretaries.

In all eight previous sessions, the lawmakers in question appeared voluntarily.

There was one incident when the council voted for a lawmaker’s testimony.

In July 2009, the panel wanted then DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama, who two months later became prime minister, to testify about the alleged illicit donations he received from his mother that were recorded under fictitious donors in his political funding reports. Hatoyama refused to attend.