Following the Oct. 11 indictment of Mr. Tsunehiko Maeda, a former prosecutor with the Osaka District Public Prosecutors’ special investigation squad, on a charge of tampering with data on a floppy disk confiscated in a case of alleged abuse of the postage discount system for the disabled, the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office on Oct. 21 indicted his two former bosses Mr. Hiromichi Otsubo and Mr. Motoaki Saga, the former chief and vice chief of the squad. In the case, Ms. Atsuko Muraki, a former welfare ministry bureau chief, was acquitted on Sept. 10.
Although the trials of the three prosecutors have not started yet, the top prosecution office dismissed them as a disciplinary measure on the same days that they were indicted.
Mr. Otsubo and Mr. Saga are charged with having told Mr. Maeda in early February 2010 to explain to others that he had changed the floppy disk content by mistake although they knew he deliberately altered it. The charge says they told him to stress that the floppy disk content alteration was done by mistake when he wrote a report about the change. The two are also charged with having told another prosecutor, who knew about the tampering, not to tell it to others and with having reported to the Osaka prosecution office head and others that Mr. Maeda did nothing wrong.
Just indicting Mr. Maeda and his two former superiors will not lead to providing a total picture of the irregularities. The top prosecution office and a third-party panel to be set up at the Justice Ministry must thoroughly examine the irregularities to get the total picture. Real reform of Japan’s prosecution system will be impossible without this total picture being shared by the public.
First and foremost the top prosecution office must explain why it agreed to the Osaka office’s proposal to indict Ms. Muraki. It must make clear whether there was enough evidence to indict her when it approved the proposal. She was indicted on July 4, 2009. If the prosecution decided to indict her without sufficient evidence, the prosecutors involved should be indicted on a charge of malfeasance.
On July 13, 2009, Mr. Maeda allegedly changed the data on the floppy disk. He told one of his colleagues about the alteration within that month. This colleague spoke of the data alteration to the investigation squad vice chief Mr. Saga on Jan. 30, 2010. On Feb. 1, Mr. Saga reported it to the squad chief Mr. Otsubo. On Feb. 2, Mr. Otsubo allegedly told Mr. Saga to treat the alteration of the floppy disk content by Mr. Maeda as having resulted from his mistake.
On Feb. 2 or 3, Mr. Otsubo and Mr. Saga allegedly told Mr. Takashi Kobayashi, head of the Osaka district prosecutors’ office, and other superiors that although the colleague of Mr. Maeda was making an allegation that Mr. Maeda altered the floppy disk content, there were no problems.
One wonders why this colleague waited until late January to report the alteration of the data by Mr. Maeda to Mr. Saga. The top prosecution office must find out whether the superiors of Mr. Otsubo and Mr. Saga did not notice the data change. Mr. Otsubo and Mr. Saga at least should tell the public why they decided to pursue the trial of Ms. Muraki even after they came to know about the data alteration.
It is reported that although a high-ranking official of the Osaka district prosecution office’s trial section was aware of the possibility of the data alteration, the official let the special investigation squad handle the matter internally. This shows that compliance with rules and procedures had slackened in the office.
During the trial of Ms. Muraki, the Osaka District Court on May 26 adopted only nine out of 43 depositions presented by the prosecution. This indicates the court’s doubts about their credibility. It dismissed 15 depositions that were the core evidence against Ms. Muraki. Six prosecutors testified to the court that the depositions were reliable. But it surfaced that they all had disposed of interrogation memos recording questions and answers during interrogations.
This is a highly unusual development. The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office must make clear whether it did not ask the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office what it thought about this situation or about the trial’s prospect. If the top prosecution office made such an inquiry and received a reply from the Osaka office, it must make them public.
As immediate remedies to Japan’s prosecution system, the long-dormant 11-member Public Prosecutors’ Qualification Examination Committee at the Justice Ministry must be activated. The committee, which includes six Diet members, the head of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and a Supreme Court justice, must seriously examine complaints about prosecutors and recommend disciplinary action against or dismiss a prosecutor if his or her conduct is found inappropriate. A relevant law should be revised so that prosecutors who do not disclose all the evidence to a defense counsel will be punished. The whole interrogation process should be electronically recorded.