Japanese lawmaker indicted on fundraising charges
Monday, October 4, 2010; 12:59 PM
TOKYO - A citizen judicial panel on Monday ordered the indictment of polarizing Japanese politician Ichiro Ozawa, who lost an intra-party election last month that would have made him prime minister. Ozawa will now be prosecuted for violation of campaign finance laws, the latest development in a long-brewing fundraising scandal that has already caused the arrest of three former aides.
The lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Party has denied all allegations, but his political career now hangs in jeopardy. The indictment alone could compel Ozawa to resign his parliament seat, experts said.
"I apologize, from the bottom of my heart, for causing troubles with regard to my political funding group," Ozawa said in a statement. "I am certain that my innocence will become clear in the trial."
The case relates to property purchases made in 2004. Ozawa's indictment threatens to alter the dynamic of Japan's ruling party, whose sweeping 2009 election victory was orchestrated, in significant part, by Ozawa.
Some 150 parliamentarians pledge loyalty to Ozawa, a gifted backroom dealer known for his skill in masterminding elections. That group often creates a troubling faction for Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who defeated Ozawa in September's run-off for party president.
After his reelection, Kan reformed his cabinet and froze Ozawa's top supporters out of key positions.
Prosecutors had previously decided not to charge Ozawa for the allegedly false fundraising statements, saying they lacked evidence. This latest decision by a judicial panel of ordinary citizens overrules that decision, however, and compels the court to appoint lawyers to prosecute the case.