The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office on July 8 announced reform of the special investigation squads, which exist at the district public prosecutors offices in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. The reform was prompted by recent irregular events involving investigators of such squads, which have contributed to deepening people’s distrust of the nation’s prosecution system.

A prosecutor of the Osaka squad was found to have tampered with evidence in a case in which Ms. Atsuko Muraki, a former health and welfare ministry official, was indicted on a charge of forging an official document and was eventually acquitted in September 2010.

On June 30, 2011, the Tokyo District Court decided not to use the core part of an investigator’s records of oral statements by a former secretary of former Democratic Party of Japan chief Ichiro Ozawa in a trial over alleged bookkeeping irregularities by Mr. Ozawa’s fund management body. The court said that an investigator used threats and leading questions to obtain the testimony he wanted.

These cases were originally dug up by special investigation squads without the involvement of the police. Traditionally these squads gained a reputation for launching original investigations into corruption cases involving politicians and officials of major companies. Among the cases that boosted the reputation of such squads were the 1988 Recruit corruption scandal, the arrest in 1993 of the late Shin Kanemaru, a former secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, over tax evasion, and the 1993-94 corruption cases involving politicians and officials of major construction companies. But from around 2005, the scale of cases handled by the special investigation squads shrank.

In announcing the reform, Supreme Public Prosecutor Haruo Kasama said that the culture of originally uncovering cases to boost the standing of a special investigation prosecutor led to the Osaka squad’s irregular handling of the case involving Ms. Muraki. It is hoped that prosecutors of special investigation squads will shed their elitism and return to the basics of prosecution — building cases on the basis of concrete evidence.

The main thrust of the reform is to reduce the relative portion of cases originally unearthed by special investigation prosecutors without the involvement of the police. It instead calls for increasing the weight of investigations into financial crimes, including corruption, acting on accusations filed by such entities as the National Tax Administration Agency and the Securities and Exchanges Surveillance Commission.

At present, the Tokyo squad has three teams — two are assigned to the task of originally unearthing cases and the third is in charge of investigating financial crimes. From October, one team will concentrate on detecting crimes and two teams will specialize in investigating financial crimes acting on accusations by the tax agency and the SESC.

The Osaka and Nagoya squads will have more prosecutors specializing in investigation of financial crimes. Financial crimes prosecutors at the three special investigation squads will also handle corruption cases first discovered and investigated by the police.

This reform is based on the recognition that special investigation prosecutors’ original investigation that do not rely on initial investigation by the police often led to investigations that rely heavily on oral statements by suspects and are weak in terms of concrete evidence. It expresses the prosecution’s determination to carry out solid investigation by using evidence offered by other public authorities such as the tax agency and the SESC.

The prosecution also started on July 8 to electronically record the entire process of the interrogation of mentally impaired suspects as well as suspects of cases originally detected by special crimes sections at 10 district public prosecutors offices. Although the recordings will be conducted on a trial basis, it is hoped that the practice will spread to all types of criminal investigations. Electronically recording the entire process of interrogation should be regarded as an important means to prevent false charges.

The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office will also set up a supervision and guidance section to deal with public prosecutors and prosecution clerks who commit irregularities. The new section will have an important function of accepting and coping with complaints from suspects about unlawful or inappropriate interrogation by public prosecutors. The function of the new section should be explained to suspects so that fairness of an investigation will be ensured.

The SPPO will also establish six outside expert committees that will help public prosecutors learn specialized knowledge. The fields to be covered by the committees will include finance and securities, special negligence, legal science, mental disorders, international affairs and organizational management. It will also establish a panel composed of outside people from which it will regularly hear opinions concerning prosecutorial management. It will also set up a system to monitor the way public prosecutors handle trials. This system will watch all criminal trials.

It is hoped that the newly introduced reform will help public prosecutors execute their jobs with humility and bring transparency to the workings of the nation’s prosecution system.

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