The Tokyo District Court on Sept. 26 found three former aides to ruling party kingpin Ichiro Ozawa guilty of falsifying political fund reports. Against the backdrop of collusive ties with companies based on public works, the court ruling said, the three former Ozawa aides falsified the entries, which are the bases for public criticism and monitoring of political activities, thereby deepening public distrust of politics.
The case concerns a dubious land purchase by a political fund management organization of the former Democratic Party of Japan chief. The court also acknowledged that a middle-ranking general contractor offered dubious money to the Ozawa camp. The ruling can be described as a sharp rebuke for the money-driven politics of the political bigwig.
In their trial, the former aides argued that even if they were guilty it was a minor offense. But the court didn't agree. Tomohiro Ishikawa, one of the three convicted former Ozawa aides, who remained a member of the Lower House even after his indictment, should now resign.
Ozawa should also be held strictly accountable for the case. While the issue of his criminal liability should be determined through his own trial, he cannot escape political responsibility for the funding scandal. Since the scandal came to light, Ozawa has refused to offer convincing and straightforward answers to the public's questions about the affair, inventing convenient excuses for ducking his responsibility. The ruling echoed public distrust of Ozawa's claims concerning the scandal by pointing out the fact that Ozawa has failed to offer a clear explanation about where the 400 million yen (about $5 million) he provided to his political fund organization for the land purchase came from.
In our past editorials, we criticized the way Ozawa was responding to the allegations and urged him to retire from politics so that this nation can bid farewell to old-fashioned politics. The Sept. 26 ruling has only reinforced our argument.
When his party membership was suspended, Ozawa said, "There were politicians who took responsibility for scandals involving their aides, but only in cases where the aides admitted wrongdoing." Now that his three former aides have all been found guilty, Ozawa has a duty to seriously consider how he should take responsibility.
The claims the former Ozawa aides made during their trial were totally out of sync with common sense and general ideas about justice among the people.
For instance, they said that transfers of funds between Ozawa's different political fund organizations were like moving money from one pocket to another, and such transfers of funds may or may not be reported. They also claimed it didn't matter if money transfers were not entered into political fund reports in a timely manner. The ruling rightfully rejected all these arguments.
We hope that all other politicians will also remember the purpose of the Political Fund Control Law and take steps to ensure that all the relevant facts concerning their political funds will be accurately reported according to the rules.
Although the ruling mostly endorsed the picture painted by public prosecutors, they have also some soul-searching to do. The court did not admit many of their records of interrogation as evidence, saying they were made by using a mix of intimidation and the lure of rewards.
Prosecutors should change their approach to building cases by gathering sufficient objective evidence instead of depending on statements by suspects and witnesses. Prosecutors should listen carefully to what the suspects say so that they can show inconsistencies in their remarks to the judges. The ruling shows that prosecutors can convince the judges by gathering enough materials to prove their cases.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 27