Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Ozawa’s Top Aide Under Arrest

I know I have other things to do, but I just had to bring this to your attention. Replies to comments on this and other threads to come later.
The Tokyo Public Prosecutors’ Office arrested Ichiro Ozawa’s top aide (第一公設秘書) today (Festival of Peach Blossoms) on a charge of violating the Political Finance Regulation Act. According to the mainstream media Nishimatsu Kensetsu, a mid-tier construction firm, has been accused (among other things) of funneling 21 million yen in corporate funds to Ozawa’s political finance entity. Sankei—unsurprisingly?—gives 200 million yen as the likely amount of money that flowed from Nishimatsu Kensetsu to Ozawa. If past experience is anything to go by, this is a charge that will stick. If Ozawa’s old-school background as the rightful heir to construction king Kakuei Tanaka as well as persistent charges of money issues including most recently one from a DPJ colleague is not enough, remember that the authorities will never make such a public arrest unless they are confident that they will have the closest thing to an air-tight case. Mike Nifong the Japanese Prosecutors’ Agency is not.

Nishimatsu had been under investigation for political contribution irregularities for some time, but this arrest appears to have come as a surprise to the media as well as the general public. No doubt there will be charges of political motivation, and, who knows, it could be true (or not) for all I know. But it will be highly difficult for Ozawa and his supporters to weather this one.

So the DPJ has two alternatives: a) have Ozawa claim his innocence but make it an Ozawa-, not DPJ-issue, by stepping down as party leader; or b) let Ozawa stay on, damaging, perhaps fatally, the DPJ’s chances for taking over through the next Lower House election. The first option, of course, works better for the DPJ. The second will change the whole complexion on the ongoing political battle in favor of the LDP-New Kōmeitō coalition. Let’s see what Ozawa does.

In the meantime, a brief rundown of the legal issue at stake:
Under the Political Finance Regulation Act (政治資金規正法), individual politicians may receive political funds from individuals only. They may not receive political funds from legal entities. According to the allegations, Nishimatsu circumvented this proscription by disguising the political money (to Ozawa among others) as individual, not corporate, contributions from former Nishimatsu executives. The money went to Ozawa’s political finance management entity (資金管理団体), but that’s a technicality.


T. Greer said...

Am I the only one who thinks Ozawa's anti-corruption and reform line just got shot out of the water?

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who thinks the timing of this charge smells very fishy? Or to put it another way, what do we know about the political timing of arrests historically?

Jun Okumura said...

Not quite, T. Greer. It was always a DPJ—not Ozawa—thing, its crusading point man Akira Nagatsuma never being known as a friend of Ozawa. It certainly hurts the DPJ, though, and there are many Japanese bloggers talking up Nagatsuma as the replacement. Surely nothing will come of that, but it highlights Ozawa as the blessing and curse that he is for the DPJ.

Anonymous, that’s a natural thought, most recently expressed by DPJ leaders including Ozawa himself, and the tabloids will have a field day with it. I’m not sure the added attention will actually help Ozawa and the DPJ, and in any case try not to think about unverifiable allegations beyond their practical implications.

Aki said...

Have you watched the news show, Anchor, aired in this evening? (I am not sure, but the show may be aired only in Kansai area.) It was quite interesting. Someone has posted it on youtube editing it into two parts.
Mr. Aoyama in the show reported about the relationship of Ozawa and the Tokyo Public Prosecutors's office. Also, please don't miss the last part (08:50-) of the second video.

Jun Okumura said...

Aki: I’m wary of commentators who liberally cite unverifiable sources. Having said that, I’ll meet this Aoyama half way on that point. Here’s my take on the Public Prosecutors Office:

Nominally under the Justice Minister’s jurisdiction, the PPO is a highly independent institution that believes it has the responsibility to maintain social norms where other branches of the government may fail. Thus, for example, its Whack-A-Ministry forays over the years. Politicians have not been spared the rod either, the biggest trophy being former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, still the most powerful man in the LDP at the time of his arrest in 1976. (Tanaka died while his bribery conviction was on appeal to the Supreme Court in 1993. The Japanese wheels of justice can turn very slowly.)

The PPO has no end of tips, likely mostly anonymous, to look into as warranted. However, it recognizes that the best it can do, perhaps the most it should do, is keep infractions of the law below a tolerable level. That is certainly true of ordinary crime, including run-of-the-mill bribery cases, where it uses rules of thumb in exercising its near-total discretion over decisions to prosecute a case or not. It is also the case, I believe, for laws regulating political activities and political financing. Thus, it is not unthinkable that at least some of the secretaries of other politicians under otherwise similar circumstances will nonetheless be spared criminal prosecution if they are considered to be of minor consequence. If such a line is drawn (I am making no guarantees in this case), then the DPJ may raise their cry of foul further, though it will be hard put to do so if it turns out that Ozawa’s involvement is more personal than it appeared provable at the beginning.

Now I have no idea whether the PPO’s taking Nishimatsu Construction to task will turn out to be an isolated event or a piece in a bigger campaign to clean up political financing. I suspect that it is somewhere in between, a fortuitous case turning out to be the “one punishment, a hundred warnings” to mainstream Japanese politicians. But was the PPO aware of Nishimatsu’s ties to Ozawa when it began the investigation? And did it go after Nishimatsu at least in part because of that relationship? If not, did it decide to arrest Ozawa’s secretary to get at Ozawa himself? My answers are: possible, unlikely, and highly unlikely though not impossible but. And I’ll come to that last “but” in an independent post.

My thoughts given here including the guesswork are based on some hearsay, personal observation over the years, and public sources. Finally, I must confess that I found myself agreeing with Aoyama on many of the views that he holds (according to Wikipedia).