Japan’s ‘Shadow Shogun’ Acquitted in Fund-Raising Scandal

Posted April 26th, 2012 at 6:05 am (UTC-5)
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Influential Japanese political figure Ichiro Ozawa was acquitted Thursday on charges of violating fund-raising laws, setting up a possible showdown in the country's ruling party.

The Tokyo District Court said there was no evidence that Ozawa knowingly falsified reports to hide a $5 million loan he made to his political fund-raising body to facilitate a land deal in 2004. Ozawa welcomed his acquittal in a brief statement, calling the ruling “sensible and fair.”

The acquittal means the ruling Democratic Party of Japan could take steps to unfreeze the membership of the 69-year-old power broker, who was forced to step down as head of the DPJ following his indictment.

Ozawa, who has retained a loyal core of supporters, has been a vocal critic of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda — also a member of the DPJ. He has opposed Mr. Noda's controversial plan to double the sales tax to address a massive government debt.

Former Japanese foreign ministry spokesman Tomohiko Taniguchi says the decision could represent a “major loss” for Mr. Noda. He told VOA it will now be more difficult to gain support for his budget measures, which are opposed by many DPJ and opposition lawmakers.

Top government spokesman Osamu Fujimura says he hopes Ozawa's acquittal will not hurt the bill's chances of being approved.

“Facing this decision, our response as a government is just to hope for the fastest possible passing of legislation (on raising the consumer sales tax).”

Mr. Noda says his plan to double the consumer sales tax to 10 percent by 2015 is necessary to bring down the country's historic debt and pay for rising social security expenses. But Ozawa says Japan's already fragile economy cannot handle the tax increase.

Prosecutors initially decided not to prosecute Ozawa, but they changed course after a panel of ordinary citizens called for his indictment. Three former aides were convicted last year in connection with the scandal.

Ozawa, nicknamed “shadow shogun” for his behind-the-scenes deal-making, is widely credited with masterminding the DPJ's historic victory in 2009 over Japan's long-time conservative leadership.