The Yomiuri Shimbun (Sep. 23, 2010)
Prosecutors’ reputation totally ruined
The alleged falsification of data by a senior prosecutor is a grave scandal that is shaking the very foundations of Japan’s criminal justice system.
The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office arrested the lead prosecutor at the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office’s special investigation squad on suspicion of tampering with evidence in the postal abuse case involving Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry officials. The ministry’s former bureau chief, Atsuko Muraki, was arrested and indicted for her alleged involvement in the case but was cleared by the Osaka District Court.
The chief prosecutor is suspected to have altered data on a floppy disk seized as possible evidence from one of Muraki’s former subordinates, who was then a unit chief at the ministry’s policy planning division, to make it better match the special investigation team’s arguments.
If the allegation is true, it would be an unprecedented instance of a prosecutor, who holds supreme authority in investigations and indictments, being found to have illegally fabricated evidence against a defendant. The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office must bring to light the case’s entire picture and strictly punish those involved.
The special investigation squad’s probe was based on the scenario that Muraki had instructed the unit chief in early June 2004 to fabricate an official document to allow a group that falsely claimed itself as a body supporting the handicapped to abuse the postal discount system for the handicapped.
However, the supposedly false document, which was found on the seized floppy disk, was last updated at 1:20 a.m. on June 1, 2004.
The chief prosecutor allegedly changed the data to show that the document was last updated at 9:10 p.m. on June 8, 2004. The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office suspects that the prosecutor altered the data because it did not fit the special investigation squad’s suppositions.
A lead prosecutor, who takes charge of investigations in a criminal case, is supposed to change the course of the investigation or give up on establishing a case altogether if investigators have found evidence contrary to their case.
Altering a seized document is an inexcusable act that ruins confidence in prosecutors’ investigations and makes a mockery of the justice of criminal trials.
Terrifying abuse of power
The chief prosecutor eventually returned the floppy disk in question to the former unit chief without submitting it to the court as evidence. If it had been submitted to the court, it might have been used as material evidence to establish Muraki’s guilt. We are terrified at the thought of such supreme authority spinning out of control.
In addition, the prosecutors had drawn up an investigation report with the correct update time on the floppy disk but did not submit it to the court. They disclosed the report upon the request of Muraki’s attorneys before her trial started.
Prosecutors must uncover what had been discussed within the special investigation squad and the district public prosecutors office over the handling of evidence and whether any other individuals were involved in altering the data. The Osaka High Public Prosecutors Office and the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office must also be blamed for having failed to fulfill their responsibility to appropriately supervise the district public prosecutors office.
In the postal abuse case, the court refused to accept many depositions by Muraki’s alleged accomplices and witnesses submitted by the prosecutors, saying that the prosecutors could have coerced them into making such statements. Given that, we must say that the quality of public prosecutors has seriously deteriorated.
The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office has the responsibility to drive out corruption within the organization by thoroughly investigating the case without being lenient on its colleagues.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 22, 2010)