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2ND LD: Ozawa's secretary pleads not guilty in Nishimatsu funds scandal.

TOKYO, Dec. 18 Kyodo

(EDS: ADDING MORE INFORMATION)

A secretary and accountant of ruling party kingpin Ichiro Ozawa pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of irregularities over the receipt of political funds from major construction contractor Nishimatsu Construction Co., while prosecutors argued that he used Ozawa's political clout to raise funds.

''I did not think (my deeds) would violate the law at all,'' Takanori Okubo, 48, a state-funded secretary to Ozawa, who is currently the secretary general of the governing Democratic Party of Japan, said at the first hearing of his trial at the Tokyo District Court.

As chief accountant of Ozawa's fund body Rikuzankai, Okubo is charged with falsely reporting 35 million yen in donations that it and the DPJ branch headed by Ozawa received from Nishimatsu Construction from 2003 through 2006 as from political organizations, a violation of the political funds control law. The DPJ was then an opposition political party.

The prosecution said in an opening statement the defendant had described the providers of the donations as Nishimatsu in a notebook. This shows that Okubo was aware that the donations given to Ozawa's fund management body and his local party branch were from Nishimatsu Construction, it said.

Okubo assumed the role of issuing the ''voice from heaven,'' or an authoritative command, around 2000 in determining the winners of biddings for public works projects financed by local governments, a prosecutor said reading out the opening statement.

The defendant held direct talks with senior Nishimatsu Construction officials over donations from dummy entities of the contractor, according to the statement.

The prosecution also said Okubo and the Nishimatsu officials reached an accord to designate Nishimatsu Construction as the winner of two public works projects in Iwate Prefecture, Ozawa's stronghold and constituency, implying that the donation was a reward for the projects.

Okubo's defense counsel in its opening statement denied the allegations that the defendant issued the voice from heaven.

The defense said the defendant is not guilty, noting that Okubo was not in a position to learn details about Nishimatsu's dummy organizations and that the defendant had recognized the dummies as substantive entities.

The focus of Okubo's trial is whether he was aware that the donations given to the Ozawa side were from dummy entities of Nishimatsu Construction.

Ozawa, who is elected to the House of Representatives from Iwate Prefecture, is said to have influence over local authorities in the Tohoku region. He was president of the DPJ, then the largest opposition party, when Okubo was arrested in March.

Presiding Judge Ikuro Toishi has set the dates for six sessions in Okubo's trial through Feb. 26 and is expected to give a ruling next spring.

After the fundraising scandal came to light, Ozawa resigned as party leader in June and was succeeded by Yukio Hatoyama, who came to power following the DPJ's landslide victory in the Aug. 30 general election. Hatoyama picked Ozawa as party secretary general in September.

In the scandal that also involved former economy, trade and industry minister Toshihiro Nikai, a former president of Nishimatsu Construction, Mikio Kunisawa, has already been convicted for violating the political funds control law and foreign exchange regulations.

Kunisawa, 71, was sentenced to 16 months in prison in July, suspended for three years. Both prosecutors and the defendant accepted the decision and did not file an appeal.

In a related development, Nikai, a senior member of the now opposition Liberal Democratic Party, resigned from his party posts earlier this week after one of his secretaries was fined 1 million yen in a summary procedure on Dec. 9 for falsely reporting 9 million yen in donations from Nishimatsu Construction.
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Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Date:Dec 21, 2009
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