Former Democratic Party of Japan leader Ichiro Ozawa pleaded not guilty to the charge of conspiring with his three secretaries to falsify reports of his fund management body Rikuzankai, at the start of his trial at the Tokyo District Court on Thursday. The trial has a special character since it is based on two votes by a citizens’ prosecution inquest panel, each vote having taken place each time the prosecution decided not to indict him.

Court-appointed lawyers serving as prosecutors charge that he lent ¥400 million to Rikuzankai around Oct. 12, 2004, to buy a plot of land in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, but conspired with the secretaries not to enter the ¥400 million in Rikuzankai’s 2004 report so that it would not be made public. They also charge that to prevent the money from appearing in the report, Rikuzankai borrowed ¥400 million from a bank by offering the money as collateral.

Mr. Ozawa’s lawyers argue that, because the citizens’ panel did not take the required two votes on the nonentry of Mr. Ozawa’s ¥400 million (the amount allegedly lent to Rikuzankai) in the report, the trial on this point should be dismissed. They insist that since Mr. Ozawa entrusted the money to one of the secretaries and did not lend it to Rikuzankai, there was no report falsification and no conspiracy between Mr. Ozawa and his secretaries.

The focus of the trial will be on whether the court will accept as evidence an investigator’s record of an oral statement by that secretary that he reported the falsification to Mr. Ozawa and that he approved it. In a separate trial of the secretaries, who were all found guilty, the same court rejected the record as evidence on the grounds that the investigator used pressure and leading questions.

The court must make conclusions by strictly assessing concrete evidence to make the trial credible. It should not repeat what it did in the trial of the secretaries — using many phrases of presumption in the ruling.

Speaking before the court, Mr. Ozawa criticized the prosecution for trying to “liquidate” him, then DPJ head, by starting an investigation against him just before the 2009 general election in which the DPJ was expected to win and grab power. But if he fails to fully explain in both the Diet and the court the nature of his ¥400 million, he will lose credibility as a political leader. He has changed his explanations about the money several times.

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