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Tokyo public prosecutors’ efforts to unravel suspected irregularities involving Rikuzankai, the political funds management body of Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, have taken a new turn.

On Wednesday, they searched the offices of Mr. Ozawa, Rikuzankai, Mr. Tomohiro Ishikawa — a DPJ Lower House member who is a former secretary of Mr. Ozawa — and general contractor Kajima Corp.

The prosecutors had questioned Mr. Ishikawa twice on a voluntary basis. Apparently they thought the search was necessary because his explanations were inadequate. Mr. Ozawa has not yet complied with prosecutors’ Jan. 5 request that he voluntarily appear before them for questioning.

It has been reported that Mr. Ishikawa received ¥400 million in cash from Mr. Ozawa and used it to purchase a 476-sq.-meter plot in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, on Oct. 29, 2004, for ¥340 million. The ¥340 million outlay is listed in Rikuzankai’s political funds report for 2005 — not in the report for 2004. The prosecutors suspect that Mr. Ishikawa did not record the ¥400 million cash transfer.

Although Mr. Ozawa’s office has explained that he sought a ¥400 million loan from a bank to buy the land, the loan was extended several hours after the land was purchased. A 2004 entry in Rikuzankai’s report reads: “Oct. 29, ¥400 million, borrowed money (from) Ichiro Ozawa.” This is regarded as the ¥400 million bank loan, not the ¥400 million given in cash by Mr. Ozawa.

Meanwhile, officials of a Kajima subcontractor have told prosecutors that the firm provided ¥50 million in cash to Mr. Ozawa’s office in October 2004 because it wanted to take part in a dam project in Oshu, Iwate Prefecture, Mr. Ozawa’s election base. Mr. Ishikawa denies receipt of the the money.

The day before the search, Mr. Ozawa told a news conference that he believed his staff had “not violated the law intentionally,” although he and his staff may have erred in their calculations. He refused to explain further. This refusal could deepen people’s suspicions about him and cause political damage to the Hatoyama administration and the DPJ.

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