Practice fueled by one-sided reporting, love of witch hunts: lawyer
Japan Times, Aug. 23, 2002
By HIROSHI MATSUBARA
The head of the public security department of the Osaka High Public Prosecutor’s Office was arrested April 23 for allegedly being entertained to the tune of 280,000 yen by mobsters in return for providing internal information.
The arrest of 58-year-old Tamaki Mitsui reportedly came just before he was to allege in public that his fellow senior prosecutors were widely skimming research funds for private expenses.
On the day of his arrest, he was to have met a TV journalist for an on-the-record whistle-blowing interview, according to reports.
“(Mitsui’s case) was a blatantly politically motivated arrest,” asserted 54-year-old lawyer Yoshihiro Yasuda recently in an interview with The Japan Times.
Yasuda, widely known for his human rights activities, was himself arrested in 1999, accused of helping a client obstruct the seizure of assets by a collapsed “jusen” mortgage lender. He is now on trial before the Tokyo District Court.
“Behind their heroes fighting against evil image, police and prosecutors have arrested and indicted people purely based on political objectives,” Yasuda said.
When Mitsui’s trial opened last month, he pleaded innocent, telling the Osaka District Court that he committed no crime and charging instead that the prosecutors who indicted him are in fact the criminals.
Legal experts say they believe Mitsui was arrested mainly in a bid to deprive him of the chance to go public with the fund abuse claim. Prosecutors, however, vehemently deny both the misuse of funds and any shady intentions behind his arrest.
Yasuda said many politically motivated arrests are aimed at mollifying the public, which favors witch hunts when scandals break.
In Yasuda’s case, he was arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department in December 1998 after a real estate company he was advising allegedly hid property in an attempt to obstruct the collection of debts.
Each year, about 40 people are arrested on such charges, mostly debtors who physically attempt to block the compulsory seizure of assets. But legal experts say it is unprecedented for a lawyer to be arrested on the charge for simply advising a client.
Prosecutors in Yasuda’s trial claimed there were no political motives behind the charges against him, claiming anyone who masterminded such a crime must be held liable.
The Tokyo court sentenced Yasuda’s clients to suspended prison terms in 1999. They have since filed appeals.
Yasuda claimed he only gave advice to his clients to help the companies survive within the legal framework, instead of “ordering them to unlawfully hide assets” as prosecutors charged.
“If what I did constitutes a crime, no lawyer can give practical advice in a civil case concerning trouble between a creditor and a debtor,” he said.
As a gesture of solidarity, more than 1,200 lawyers have listed their names to the Yasuda defense team list, believing in his innocence.
His arrest was followed by a 10-month detention, as authorities rejected release requests from his attorneys seven times.
Yasuda and his supporters believe there were ulterior motives behind his arrest.
At the time he was taken into custody, Yasuda was the leading defense attorney for Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara, who stands accused of masterminding a series of heinous crimes, including the 1995 Tokyo subway gas attack and another deadly nerve gas attack the previous year.
When no other lawyers were willing to take up Asahara’s case, Yasuda took charge of the defense team, based on his belief that even the most despised criminal suspect should be fully defended.
Prosecutors complained that Yasuda’s team was trying to slow Asahara’s trial by insisting on a meticulous cross-examination of witnesses.
As a result of the 10-month detention, Yasuda said he had to drop the case, and another public defender was appointed.
Yasuda is also a leading campaigner against the death penalty, and believes his arrest was also meant to suppress that movement.
“It was clearly a warning over my tenacity as Asahara’s defense lawyer and my death penalty campaign,” he said.
Other lawyers suspect Yasuda’s arrest was a message from government authorities to lawyers that they should not try too hard to help jusen debtors escape asset seizure by the semipublic RCC.
One thing that has allowed prosecutors to act on their political motives is the media’s one-sided crime reporting, which tends to focus only on information from investigators, Yasuda said.
“The media have been least critical of police and prosecutors and treat them almost as heroes serving social justice,” he said. “They have created the view that those arrested are bad people even before they are tried.”
Other legal experts blame the courts for almost unconditionally accepting requests for arrest warrants from police and prosecutors. It is believed courts give the go-ahead to more than 99.9 percent of such requests, leading critics to call them vending machines for warrants.
Teruo Ikuta, a judge-turned-defense lawyer, said prosecutors are not fully immune from political pressures, because they themselves bear a responsibility to protect society.
The Tokyo District Court is expected to rule on Yasuda’s case early next year.
He said he is confident of acquittal, adding, “I hope the case will change the naive view the public has toward investigative authorities.”