The Yomiuri Shimbun (Sep. 25, 2010)
Strict action needed to reform prosecutors
The latest revelation concerning the alleged tampering of evidence by a prosecutor from the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office may imply an organizationwide attempt to cover up a surefire scandal.
The case in question involves a head prosecutor from the Osaka office's special investigation squad who has been accused of altering potential evidence seized during investigations into a case of alleged postal fraud. It has become known that the investigative unit was informed that its lead prosecutor had possibly falsified data, and that this finding was reported to top officials at the district prosecutors office.
A task force from the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office set up to investigate this scandal has questioned two key figures who supervised the prosecutor in question: a high-ranking prosecutor who headed the investigation unit at the time, and another senior prosecutor who was the team's deputy chief.
It must be clarified why senior officials from the district prosecutors office failed to act when they received information about what may constitute the crime of destruction of evidence. The task force must thoroughly investigate the case to get to the bottom of the scandal, while determining who should take the blame if there was indeed a cover-up.
Sketchy conduct high to low
In February, some officials of the district prosecutors office, including the head of the investigation squad, received reports that the team's lead prosecutor might have rewritten data on a floppy disk confiscated from the home of a former section chief at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.
At the time, the prosecutor in question reportedly told a colleague he had planted a "time bomb" on the disk.
However, after the prosecutor told the head of the investigation unit and other senior officials that his alteration of the data "was not deliberate," they seem to have done little to uncover the truth behind his conduct.
Questions also must be raised about how the head of the investigative team described the prosecutor's action when he reported on the alleged data alteration to the Osaka office's chief prosecutor. He reportedly said the prosecutor's conduct would pose "no problem."
We feel the prosecutor's description of his action as a "time bomb" should have been sufficient to arouse suspicion that the falsification was deliberate. If the investigative team leader swallowed the explanation that the alteration "was not deliberate," he should be brought to task for being too lenient with his subordinates and for his lack of skill in dealing with the matter.
It is also questionable why the Osaka office's chief prosecutor had no reservations about the investigation team's report on the affair. It seems to us that as the head of the prosecutors office, his actions lacked urgency. He should have instructed the special investigative unit to further look into the prosecutor's conduct.
Act firmly to restore trust
The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office should investigate the depth to which senior officials at the district prosecutors office were aware of the alleged data tampering. If their action--or inaction, for that matter--is found to violate any laws, the top prosecutors office should deal sternly with them, possibly even pursuing criminal charges.
The latest scandal has prompted some Democratic Party of Japan members to say the prosecutor general--the person in charge of all prosecutors in the country--should step down. They are also seeking to have all interrogations during criminal investigations videotaped.
The scandal could arouse questions about related matters, including the credibility of depositions taken from suspects in other cases handled by the Osaka special investigation squad.
Prosecutors must uncover the truth behind the data-tampering scandal, and fully present their findings to the public. They also must reexamine every aspect of their probe into the alleged abuse of the postal discount system.
Prosecutors must demonstrate they have what it takes to root out corruption among themselves to restore the trust they have lost. Doing so is the only way to resurrect the prosecution as an investigative organization.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 24, 2010)