Trial of the 'shadow shogun' grips Japan

 

Tokyo

One of Japan's most eagerly awaited legal showdowns, between public prosecutors and the country's most powerful backroom politician, began yesterday after years of wrangling. Ichiro Ozawa, 69, pleaded not guilty to false accounting by his office and said the trial was politically motivated.

"This case is based solely on testimonies collected by prosecutors' illegal investigation," he told a packed court. "This is a wrongful trial and should be stopped immediately."

Prosecutors say that he was aware that three of his closest political aides wrongly reported the use of 400 million yen of his money in a 2004 land deal. Mr Ozawa has said it was a case of "erroneous bookkeeping."

The trial was covered live by five Japanese TV networks and hundreds of reporters and analysts, reflecting public interest in the man dubbed the "shadow shogun" because of his huge influence on Japanese politics. More than 2,000 people queued for the approximately 50 public seats in the court.

Mr Ozawa was a force behind the creation of the left-leaning Democratic Party of Japan, (DJP) which swept the conservative Liberal Democrats from office after more than 50 years of almost unbroken power in 2009. A former party leader, he controls the largest faction in the DPJ and nearly pushed the then prime minister, Naoto Kan, out of office a year ago. His party membership was suspended after his indictment.

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