Tokyo Notes

Heat Back on Ozawa

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Tokyo Notes

Heat Back on Ozawa

A panel finds the DPJ kingpin should have been prosecuted over a money scandal.

Ruling party supremo Ichiro Ozawa should have been prosecuted. That was the judgement of an inquest panel looking into a money scandal linked to the Democratic Party of Japan general secretary.

The decision came Tuesday just as a glimmer of hope emerged that things were turning for the better for the embattled administration here: The United States had referred to a proposal by Japan to solve the Futenma air base relocation issue as ‘encouraging’, while a similar inquest panel concluded Monday that prosecutors made the right decision in not indicting Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama over a separate money scandal.

But these potential signs of respite have been overshadowed by the panel’s view that Ozawa should have been indicted by prosecutors.

The decision by the 11 randomly chosen citizens means that public prosecutors have three months to reconsider whether or not to indict Ozawa. If they again conclude that they shouldn’t, another panel will be put together, and if, as is likely, they call for his indictment again, Ozawa will be prosecuted. Having already given up the formal leadership of the party over a previous money scandal, surely an indictment would spell the end for the DPJ kingpin.

Ozawa reacted to the decision with typical defiance, reportedly expressing his surprise at the panel’s decision after prosecutors had spent a year reaching a different conclusion. He vowed to stay on in his position.

Ozawa’s case, involving circular payments of 400 million yen for a property deal in 2004, differs from Hatoyama’s in that testimony from one of Ozawa’s indicted aides claims that Ozawa conspired in the concealment involved. Ozawa, of course, denies this.

In the case of Hatoyama, his former secretary took complete responsibility for trying to illegally conceal the embarrassing fact that Hatoyama’s mother was bankrolling the prime minister’s political organization. Keiji Katsuba received a suspended prison sentence for his loyalty.

While this means Hatoyama can try to put the episode behind him, it still leaves his reputation very much tarnished, because if it’s true he lacked the perception to even realize his mother was pumping three annual salaries worth of cash into his political body each month, what on earth is he doing running the country?

The panel’s decision on Ozawa was lauded by the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun daily, which described it as absolute ‘common sense’ in its editorial on Wednesday. The more centrist Asahi Shimbun cautioned readers to remember that the panel’s decision didn’t involve any compelling evidence and couldn’t be compared to an investigation by prosecutors. But in a robust conclusion, it called on Ozawa to stop wasting time and to either explain himself in parliamentary testimony or to resign.

Surely Ozawa will indeed have to explain himself in a more convincing way if he is to avoid being forced to step down once again.