SAPPORO - Following new testimony from a former police inspector about a Russian man who was caught in an illegal police sting operation, a court Tuesday overturned his 1998 conviction for handgun possession.
The Sapporo District Court acquitted former seaman Andrei Novosyolov, 47, who served two years in prison, but did not rule on the legality of the police operation.
Novosyolov was arrested in November 1997 at the port of Otaru in western Hokkaido for possessing a handgun and was found guilty of violating the firearms control law by the district court in August 1998. He had been seeking a retrial, claiming he was the victim of an illegal operation by the Hokkaido police.
Novosyolov’s defense counsel filed for a retrial in September 2013 following new testimony from a former police inspector stating the person who approached Novosyolov about exchanging a used car for a handgun was in fact working for police investigators.
The defense council claimed that Novosyolov was the victim of an “illegal sting operation” by the police and asked the court to make a “bold judgment” on the illegality of the operation in the retrial. Prosecutors had also sought Novosyolov’s acquittal.
The district court approved holding a retrial in March last year, recognizing that the sting operation in Novosyolov’s case was illegal, prompting prosecutors to file an immediate appeal with the Sapporo High Court.
The high court in October rejected the prosecutors’ appeal and called for the retrial to be held on the grounds that police officials at the time made false statements in investigative documents, but it did not rule on the legality of the police operation.
Yoshiaki Inaba, the 63-year-old former police inspector who worked in the Hokkaido police’s firearms control division at the time of his arrest, was arrested in 2002 on suspicion of stimulant drug use, and admitted during his trial that the Hokkaido police had engaged in a sting operation.
“It was a sting operation conducted to aid the police,” Inaba said in a recent interview. “He must have gone through a lot of hardships in prison in a foreign country. I want to apologize to him.”
“His acquittal would lift a great weight from my shoulders,” Inaba added.
At the time of Novosyolov’s arrest, police officers had been assigned a quota to confiscate illegal guns following a series of sniper shootings targeting key figures in Japan.
Police officers instructed an informant to encourage foreigners to bring firearms to Japan as part of efforts to meet the quota. Novosyolov was arrested in the process of exchanging the handgun.
“Me and the organization jumped to grab the opportunity to get the credit,” Inaba said, recalling Novosyolov’s arrest. “I still remember his frightened face at the arrest scene.”
“(My superiors) must have acknowledged that it was an illegal operation. I thought this method was wrong but couldn’t fight back,” Inaba said. “We did many other dirty things and I thought we would have to pay for them someday,” he added.
Inaba said he testified about the police’s sting operation out of his desire to reveal the truth.
Hokkaido police officials declined to comment on the legality of its investigatory method concerning the case.