The Osaka District Court on Tuesday sentenced a former prosecutor to 18 months’ imprisonment for tampering with evidence in a case against a former welfare ministry official charged with ordering a subordinate to fabricate a document making an unqualified organization eligible for the postal discount system. The official, Ms. Atsuko Muraki, was acquitted in September, more than a year after she and her subordinate were arrested on July 4, 2009.

The court decided that Tsunehiko Maeda, the former prosecutor with the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office’s special investigation squad, on July 13, 2009, changed the final update time on a floppy disk, confiscated from Ms. Muraki’s subordinate, to make its data conform with the prosecution’s scenario. The floppy contained the text of the document in question.

Ms. Muraki was acquitted mainly because the same court decided that core evidence – testimonies by witnesses – against her resulted from prosecutors’ leading questions and coercion. Although the altered floppy disk was not used as evidence in the trial, what Maeda did was unprecedented in the history of criminal trials. The ruling Tuesday said he bears an extremely grave responsibility, as his actions could have undermined the basis of the judiciary system. His two former bosses have been indicted on a charge of harboring a suspect, that is Maeda.

The trial ended after two hearings and has left important questions unanswered. The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office, which served as the prosecution in the trial, tried to end it as soon as possible. The defense counsel for Maeda accepted all the SPPO’s arguments also to end the trial quickly.

As to his motive for tampering with the floppy disk, Maeda said only that he could not explain what he actually wanted to do. The SPPO did not question him thoroughly. The court also accepted the defense counsel’s contention that the arrest of Ms. Muraki was rational, apparently not to weaken prosecution authorities’ position in a lawsuit filed by Ms. Muraki against the state for redress. Such an attitude will not help restore people’s trust in prosecutors.

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