Three former aides of Democratic Party of Japan heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa pleaded not guilty Monday to falsifying the records of his political fund management body Rikuzankai in 2004, 2005 and 2007.

The Tokyo District Court trial of the three former secretaries, which is scheduled to run until late July, is widely expected to have a bearing on the separate trial of the DPJ kingpin, who was specially indicted Jan. 31 for his alleged involvement in cooking his political funds books.

The three defendants — Lower House lawmaker Tomohiro Ishikawa, 37, Takanori Okubo, 49, and Mitsutomo Ikeda, 33 — stand accused, as does Ozawa, of violating the Political Funds Control Law.

The three entered the courtroom in dark suits and sat side by side.

Ishikawa and Okubo are accused of conspiring and making a false entry in Rikuzankai’s 2004 report for ¥400 million allegedly provided by Ozawa to purchase land in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. They also allegedly failed to report ¥350 million that was actually paid to purchase the land as an expenditure in the same report.

In their opening statement, the prosecutors said they will prove the three ex-aides intentionally did not register the ¥400 million because they feared such a large sum would attract attention and eventually reveal that they separately received ¥50 million around the same time from general contractor Mizutani Construction in connection with a dam project in Iwate Prefecture, Ozawa’s constituency base.

“I meant to have reported (the ¥400 million),” said Ishikawa as he entered a not guilty plea and said that Ozawa’s name and the amount, which he received in cash from Ozawa’s personal assets, are registered in the report. Ishikawa, who left the DPJ after he was indicted last year, wore his Diet member’s badge.

Both Ishikawa and Okubo also denied receiving ¥50 million from Mizutani Construction.

Okubo, who was a senior secretary to Ozawa when the allegedly falsified reports were made, claimed he is innocent and told the court the only reason he owned up to the charges during interrogation was to prevent Ishikawa and Ikeda from being indicted.

“All the records were made and submitted (to the election administration authorities) by Ishikawa and Ikeda, and I never signed these papers or knew the details of their contents,” he said, also denying he conspired with the two subordinates.

The case will focus on whether the entries in the books can be considered false statements, whether the former aides conspired, and whether the motive behind the false entries was to hide the ¥50 million from Mizutani Construction.

Attorneys for the three said their clients were threatened by prosecutors during their interrogations, prompting them to admit to some of the allegations.

Ikeda stands accused of conspiring with Okubo and falsely declaring a donation of some ¥300 million in Rikuzankai’s 2005 report even though no donation was received. Ikeda, who succeeded Ishikawa as the secretary working on the report, also allegedly conspired with Okubo and failed to report some ¥400 million as an expenditure in the 2007 Rikuzankai report, when they actually paid that amount back to Ozawa that year.

The trial is slated to hold 17 sessions before it wraps up in July, and some 15 people are expected to testify as witnesses. They include prosecutors who interrogated the three, as well as the former president and chairman of Mizutani Construction. Ozawa is not expected to take the stand during their trial.

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.