• Kyodo

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A Russian man facing retrial in a 1997 handgun possession case should be acquitted, prosecutors said Thursday, putting him on course to clear his name 18 years after his sentence was finalized.

Former seaman Andrei Novosyolov, 47, was arrested in November 1997 in a sting operation at Otaru port in Hokkaido. He spent two years in prison but was convicted based on evidence collected through an operation that was likely illegal.

Novosyolov’s sentence for breaking the Firearm and Sword Control Law was finalized in August 1998. Since then he has been seeking a retrial on the grounds that he was the victim of an illegal police operation.

“I want to thank the Sapporo District Court for reviewing the case,” Novosyolov said in court, speaking in Russian with Japanese translation. “I would like (the court) to hand down an appropriate judgment so there will not be someone like me in the future.”

His defense lawyer filed for a retrial in September 2013 following new testimony by a former police inspector. The inspector said a person who offered to exchange a car for a handgun was in fact working for the investigators.

Because both the defense and prosecutors did not seek a guilty verdict at the first hearing of the retrial Thursday, Novosyolovis set to be acquitted on March 7.

The defense team said Novosyolov had no intention of obtaining a handgun and was tricked into doing so.

Novosyolov admitted to possessing a handgun but told the court, “I would not have done so if I had not been encouraged by the person working for the Hokkaido police,” adding that he had been “systematically deceived by the police.”

Sting operations have frequently been used in drug and gun cases, but the tactic of instigating crimes, known overseas as entrapment, has been criticized.

In a 2004 decision, the Supreme Court set limits on sting operations and said they must target people who are suspected of being willing to commit crimes at any opportunity. It also stipulated that the cases must be crimes without victims and those that would be difficult to solve using conventional tactics.

In March last year, the lower court gave the green light for a retrial after recognizing that the sting was illegal, prompting prosecutors to file an immediate appeal to the Sapporo High Court.

While the high court in October did not rule on the legality of the operation, it rejected the appeal and called for holding the retrial on grounds that police officials at the time made false statements in investigative documents.

To hold the retrial, the government has taken a special measure to get Novosyolov into Japan because immigration law forbids non-Japanese who have been sentenced to prison for over a year from entering the country.

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