The nuclear crisis following March 11’s earthquake and tsunami is still top news in Japan, but for today’s post, I’ll be taking a look at an important story that fell through the cracks this past week.
Tsunehiko Maeda, former Osaka prosecutor, may be facing two years in prison after tampering with evidence in an investigation involving the postal discount system.
Maeda headed an investigation against Atsuko Muraki, a senior official at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. Muraki has since been acquitted of forging an official document giving preferential treatment to an organization for the disabled. Maeda has pleaded guilty to tampering with data on a floppy disk seized during the probe. Two of Maeda’s supervisors–Hiromichi Otsubo and Motoaki Saga–have also been arrested for covering up Maeda’s tampering, and the top two chiefs of the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office–Takashi Kobayashi and Hideaki Tamai–have stepped down, taking blame for the tampering and cover-up.
According to the Mainichi Daily News, during a hearing on Thursday, “Maeda apologized for having damaged the prosecution’s tradition and for wrongly indicting Atsuko Muraki.”
I found this statement baffling. From my understanding of the Japanese legal system, Maeda was simply upholding tradition.
As Jake Adelstein notes in his book, Tokyo Vice, in Japan, you’re presumed guilty until proven guilty, which is evident in Japan’s suspiciously high conviction rate of 99.86 percent (the U.S., by comparison, has a conviction rate of 85 percent, which some critics claim is too high). Japanese police typically arrest their first suspect, then investigators coerce a confession out of the suspect. The general opinion seems to be if you’re not guilty, then why are you a suspect in the first place? The courts only exist to verify the investigation.
For a disturbing, first-hand account of the Japanese legal system, see this account by an Englishman going by George (not his real name). George spent 23 days in jail and had to pay 2.1 million yen in fees and damages after he got in a minor scuffle with a taxi driver. In the 23 days he was in jail, he had no contact with his family or the outside world. He recounts how he wasn’t allowed to consult with a lawyer until he signed confession that made him out to be a violent hooligan.
Also see David E. Kaplan and Alec Dubro’s incredibly in-depth book, Yakuza: Japan’s Criminal Underworld (see Resources page), in which the authors give horror stories about foreigners picked up for minor visa violations and then compelled to sign blank confessions, which were then filled-in by prosecutors, often accusing them of drug or gun smuggling, and used against them in court.
Maeda cited pressure that failure would not be tolerated at the investigative team as his motive for tampering with the evidence. It seems that Maeda’s main mistake was that he indicted a high-profile ministry official and failed to get a conviction. I somehow doubt Maeda’s conviction will have any impact on Japan’s broken legal system.