Tokyo Notes

What’s Taking Ozawa so Long?

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Tokyo Notes

What’s Taking Ozawa so Long?

Ichiro Ozawa’s failure to explain himself to the Diet over a funding scandal hardly helps the DPJ’s image.

Excuse the running theme, but it’s a curious state of affairs. The Democratic Party of Japan heavyweight can’t shake off a funding scandal in which, at first glance, he seems to have done little more than borrow money from himself.

If your party is keen to portray itself as clean of politics-and-money scandals, and you yourself have stood down from an executive party position to that end, surely the idea of explaining yourself to your parliament’s ethics committee would be the next logical step in that process? After all, this is exactly the kind of issue the committee was established for.

So why wouldn’t you do this? Consenting to speak to a committee is hardly a sign of guilt. On the other hand, not doing so just gives the impression, rightly or wrongly, that you might have something bigger to hide. Perhaps something that no one’s even spotted yet…

Ozawa and his supporters would probably argue that the matter is in the hands of the authorities and so isn’t a suitable topic for Diet discussion. Three former aides have already been indicted and Ozawa is due to be charged next after a citizen’s prosecution review panel insisted on indictment. But does this argument mean the lower house ethics committee can only discuss trivial funding irregularities?

The recent release of funding reports from last year showed Ozawa again lending money to his funding organization Rikuzankai in July. It wasn’t to buy a 400 million yen property this time. Instead it appears to have been used to help finance the campaigns of 89 DPJ candidates in last year’s general election. But the 370 million yen loan was repaid two days later. That’s a coincidence.

So too is the fact that Rikuzankai received a donation for exactly the same amount that same day from the No.4 DPJ Iwate prefectural chapter. The chapter, it seems, had been given a donation the previous day: Yes, for 370 million yen. That came from Kaikaku Forum 21, an old Ozawa political group that legally could not give Rikuzankai more than 50 million yen in donations over the period of a year.

The Japan Times reported yesterday that DPJ leaders will meet this week to decide on whether Ozawa will be summoned to appear in front of a session of the Lower House council in January, ahead of the new Diet session.

All of Ozawa’s actions over donations may turn out to be perfectly legal, but do they also give the impression of a systematic approach to getting around funding rules? All the more reason for Ozawa to start explaining himself.