Ex-DPJ chief Ichiro Ozawa acquitted in political funding scandal

Appeal court clears Ichiro Ozawa of wrongdoing in failing to report 400 million yen loan

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2012, 2:38am

Japan's one-time political kingmaker Ichiro Ozawa has been cleared of misreporting political funds, ending a drawn-out legal battle for one of the country's most colourful politicians.

The appeal court upheld an earlier ruling that Ozawa did nothing wrong in failing initially to report 400 million yen (HKD$39 million) that he had loaned to the funding body supporting his political machine.

Ozawa, 70, was once one of Japan's most powerful politicians, earning the moniker "Shadow Shogun" for behind-the-scenes manoeuvring that shaped large parts of the parliamentary landscape.

A former player in the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, he is credited with engineering the 2009 general election victory of the now-governing Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which he once led.

But his star has largely faded in recent times and his departure from the DPJ to set up his own party earlier this year did not prove the terminal blow to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda that commentators speculated he was hoping for.

Yesterday, presiding judge Shoji Ogawa of the Tokyo High Court upheld an April acquittal for Ozawa on charges he had conspired not to report the 400 million yen loan in 2004.

The funding body used the cash for a 350 million yen land deal and reported having received the money in documents submitted for the accounts in a different year.

Japanese law requires transactions involving political funding to be strictly recorded.

Ozawa and his aides argued that they had made technical mistakes and that the misreporting was not criminal.

Japan's mainstream media has long been critical of Ozawa's strong political influence, which critics charge stems from his vast personal wealth and allegedly lucrative connections.

Allegations of corruption have surrounded him for years, but he has never been convicted of any offence.

Noda is under pressure to call a general election soon, with defections and departures - including those by Ozawa and his acolytes - leaving his majority in the lower house extremely fragile.