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Editorial: No charges, but Amari still faces test on qualities as a lawmaker

  • August 18, 2016
  • , The Asahi Shimbun digital , 15:20
  • English sites

A statement from the office of former economy minister Akira Amari shows a deplorable lack of understanding about the public’s anger toward a money scandal and frustration with an ineffective law.


The statement, released after prosecutors decided not to indict his two former aides over a construction company’s dubious cash payments to them, said Amari believed his aides would never commit an act that violates the law.


Amari felt relieved to hear prosecutors’ decision not to indict them, it said.


The construction company in question asked one of the two former aides for help in its negotiations with the government-affiliated Urban Renaissance Agency concerning compensation over a road built next to the company’s offices. The company asked the aide to urge the urban property developer to increase the compensation amount.


The aide and a company official agreed the company would send certified mail to the agency and then the Amari office would step in.


The second Amari aide, acting under the other aide’s instructions, visited the agency’s headquarters without an appointment and asked how it was responding to the company’s request.


Soon afterward, the agency decided to increase the compensation amount. On the day the compensation money was paid, the company handed 5 million yen ($49,900) in cash to one of the former aides.


Few would believe the Amari side’s actions were part of above-board political activities.


The former aides were accused of violating the law prohibiting mediation remuneration, but prosecutors dropped the case, saying they could not find sufficient evidence to prove the aides exerted influence based on Amari’s authority as a Diet member.


But the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, a panel of randomly selected citizens to review prosecutors’ decisions, took exception.


The panel, citing two reasons, demanded that prosecutors open a fresh investigation into the case.


It said the fact that an aide to the influential politician visited the agency’s headquarters, which was not in charge of the negotiations, without an appointment clearly shows the aides believed the move would influence the agency’s decision.


The panel also said the agency’s response to the aide’s sudden visit clearly indicates it feared damage to its interests if it failed to respond.


Critics have pointed out that the law is full of loopholes. That appears to be the case if the law cannot even punish the actions of the two former aides.


The panel’s demand reflected citizens’ concerns about the effectiveness of the law. But prosecutors maintained their decision not to indict the former aides.


Prosecutors should not be criticized for following strict interpretations of laws and being cautious about charging suspects. But they should have done more to explore the possibilities of bringing the case to court by respecting the reasonable judgment made by the citizen panel.


We are dissatisfied with their decision to drop the case because it squandered a good opportunity to breathe life into the flawed law.


This ends efforts to press criminal charges over the scandal because prosecutors also decided not to prosecute Amari. But the politician still faces serious questions about his oversight and moral responsibility. He has recovered his health just as the Diet session has ended.


Amari once promised to disclose the results of his own inquiry into the allegations and give his views on the scandal. Now is the time for the politician to make good on that promise.


The public has given Amari enough time. He should answer questions about what really happened in a sufficiently long news conference and also at the Diet.


When he resigned as economy minister, Amari talked about his “aesthetics as a politician” and his “pride as a lawmaker.” He now faces a test of whether he really has these qualities.A statement from the office of former economy minister Akira Amari shows a deplorable lack of understanding about the public’s anger toward a money scandal and frustration with an ineffective law.

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