Wednesday, February 2, 2011

On Ozawa's Indictment

So, Osawa has been formally indicted for dirty money deals. I have more than a few thoughts on this, so bear with me.

Very briefly, Ozawa's office engaged in some very dodgy and likely illegal land deals that landed him with unlawful campaign money. The subordinates that were directly responsible have already been indicted and have apparently confirmed the facts (though with Japanese prosecutors there's no guarantee it's genuine). The question has been whether Ozawa himself knew about it or approved it, and what responsibility he has as the head of the office.

The prosecutor's office has twice investigated him and twice declined to indict him, citing a lack of any evidence or wrongdoing. Ozawa himself has refused to give a sworn account for the money deals in the lower house. He has refused to leave his party posts, has refused to leave the DPJ and has refused to step down as lower house member. The refusal to give account is probably the most damaging thing; it's difficult to come up with any reason for him to refuse if he doesn't have things to hide.

A panel of citizens were tasked with going through the material, and they determined Ozawa should indeed be indicted. After a second panel did the same thing, the decision became binding, and the prosecutors are obliged to bring him to trial with the material they have. The reason for the citizen panel thing is of course that the Japanese police and judicial systems are anything but clean and trustworthy, and the judicial panels are supposed to make it harder for police and prosecutors to protect their own corrupt members or corrupt politicians from the law.

So far so good. But I agree with Ozawa - he should not step down from the lower house as a result of this indictment. For a normal indictment it's all but given that a lower-house member will resign. But this isn't a normal indictment. Remember, the prosecutors twice determined they didn't have evidence that would actually hold up in court, and they're only going to court because the citizen panel forces them to. A citizen panel that does not have legal experience, and that may well be driven as much by animosity towards Ozawa as by the strength of any evidence; he is a very polarizing political figure here, and his refusal to testify makes him look very suspicious in the eyes of the public.

A panel of private people, with no judge, no accountability, few legal limitations and no way for the accused to defend themselves, should not be able to drive an elected representative out of office. They may have simply decided they dislike Ozawa and want him gone, any actual illegal activity or not. They may of course have found that the prosecutors protected a powerful political ally and he is guilty as sin. The actual trial will (well, may - this is Japan, remember) find that out.

But whether he should occupy his lower-house seat is not up to an unaccountable panel. It is not up to prime minister Kan. It is not up to a howling press. That is between himself and the people in the fourth district of Iwate to decide. Nothing less than an actual conviction should ever force an elected member out of office. Especially a disliked, despised member - would we want majorities to be able to disenfranchise disliked local minorities at will?

Now, the DPJ may well decide he is not fit to hold a position within the party and that is fine. They may decide he is damaging the party enough that they kick him out altogether (and I would agree with such a decision). But the actual lower house seat is not - and should not be - up for discussion. It is true that a deeply unpopular figure like him may not be the most effective representative for the good folks at Iwate 4. But that's up to them to decide - not us, not the DPJ and not an impatient public.


  1. The admonition to "be nice" read and understood.
    In these forums it should always be so.
    Ozawa Ichiro has been around and dodged many obstacles such as this before. Indeed he seems to thrive on this type of political tempest and whenever I see this type of thing happening in Kasumigaseki style politics it always make me wonder what's really happening. These folks are masters of slight of hand hocus pocus political tricks. In fact Ozawa is the perfect person to be the sheep tied to the stake, but this sheep has very sharp teeth. I won't be a bit surprised to see this exact thing re-incarnate in another Ozawa political life somewhere in the future.
    Kan owes his political life to Ozawa and debts are never forgotten or forgiven here. Kan is a mere upstart when dealing with Ichiro. There is an old adage in Tokyo politics "all will be tainted with the same mud when they enter the Diet".


  2. I, too, have quite a few thoughts on this. Your post is thorough and fair, and I agree to most of its contents.

    However, "it's difficult to come up with any reason for him to refuse if he doesn't have things to hide" - I would like to take another perspective on this. Past sworn/un-sworn testimonies in the House have been mere witch hunts. "Let the cameras roll." Ozawa knows this all too well, for some of his mentors have been in those docks. For somebody who is indicted/soon to be indicted, to agree to partake in such a spectacle and incriminate himself even further is the equivalent of political suicide. Likely it also would be damaging to his case in court. Any lawyer would strongly advise against that.

    Also, you already truthfully mentioned the limitations of the Citizen's panel, but it might be worth mentioning that its member's average age was in the early thirties. I am not the one to adhere to conspiracy theories and the like, but I think it is fair to say that after all the leaks by the prosecutor's office and the media's mass hysteria that ensued, the panel's decision very well may have been tainted at least. For now I'd say give the man his day in court, and abide by the "innocent until proven guilty".


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