Following the arrests of the chief secretary and two former secretaries to Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa on suspicion of violating the Political Funds Control Law, plus public prosecutors’ expanded search of construction company offices, more than a few DPJ and Cabinet members now appear intent on countering the prosecution and mass media, whose actions and reports they say are biased and one-sided.
It seems their anger has been stoked all the more by public prosecutors’ decision to make the arrests just before a DPJ convention and the start of the regular Diet session. They are concerned that the investigation may damage public trust in the DPJ administration and thereby weaken it. They must take care, though, that their reaction does not backfire. If they go as far as to somehow interfere with the investigation process itself, they would likely be seen as contradicting some of the nation’s democratic principles. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s call for self-restraint on the part of DPJ politicians is wise.
Even if the politicians do not actually intervene in the investigative process, there is the political danger that their activities will lead people to conclude that members of the DPJ and the Cabinet are trying to influence the course of the investigation. With Upper House elections scheduled for this summer, both the Hatoyama administration and the DPJ at large would seriously suffer if such a public perception took hold.
DPJ politicians’ resentment of the investigation is taking various forms. Some DPJ members held a meeting to protest the arrest of Mr. Tomohiro Ishikawa, a DPJ Lower House member and a former secretary to Mr. Ozawa. Chief Cabinet Secretary General Hirofumi Hirano expressed his frustration at a news conference: “So much one-sided information is emerging from the mass media that I sometimes feel that the media are not playing fair.”
Mr. Hirano complained that countering arguments from the suspects are not being reported. Still, he showed restraint by saying that, as a member of the administration, he was not in a position to conclude whether the investigation is fair.
Mr. Ishikawa is suspected of omitting from political funding reports some ¥400 million he received in cash from Mr. Ozawa, as well as an outlay of some ¥340 million of that cash to purchase a plot of land in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, on Oct. 29, 2004. Curiously, Mr. Ozawa is reported to have taken out a ¥400 million bank loan several hours after the land deal payment was made.
Internal affairs minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi, whose jurisdiction includes the broadcast industry, has complained of the frequent use of the phrase “according to parties concerned” in mass media news reports about the investigation. He said: “The phrase does not make clear whether they are people related to the prosecution or the suspects. Lack of clarity on this point is inappropriate as long as they (radio and TV stations) are using the radio waves, which are public properties.” His statement, which appears to dictate how news reports should be compiled, could be construed as an attempt to infringe on press freedom.
The DPJ caucus decided to create a team to examine whether public prosecutors are leaking results of their investigation to the media, as well as how and where the media are getting information about the investigation. Mr. Toshio Ogawa, a DPJ Upper House member and a former public prosecutor, will head the team, assisted by DPJ lawmakers with a lawyer’s license.
Clearly, an overwhelming number of mass media reports appear to be originating from the prosecutors’ side. Reporters should exercise utmost care when handling information supplied by prosecutors. Even so, the DPJ’s efforts could constitute interference with the investigation and infringement on press freedom.
Mr. Hiroshi Nakai, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, said Mr. Ozawa’s explanations have failed to allay suspicions raised over how his political funds management body, Rikuzankai, has handled funds. At the same time, he pointed out that the prosecution has not fully explained why it had to arrest Mr. Ozawa’s chief secretary and two former secretaries.
Commenting on the timing of the three arrests, Mr. Nakai said, “I cannot understand what public prosecutors were thinking.” In view of Mr. Nakai’s position with the safety commission, his statement is unusual.
The attorney for Mr. Ishikawa has asked the Justice Ministry to videotape all prosecutorial interrogations of the arrested DPJ lawmaker. This is a reasonable request, although a recent move within the DPJ to enact a law — during this Diet session — requiring the videotaping of the entire interrogation process involving suspects smacked of political revenge. Mr. Hatoyama has quashed the move, saying “a reflexive move could be taken as criticism of the prosecution.”
Instead of focusing on the motives and methods of the prosecution, the DPJ would do better to consider launching an internal probe into the actions of Mr. Ozawa and his staffers.
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