Investigative Authorities Must Verify and Explain What Police Did

A police officer on active duty involved in the investigation of a case uncovered by the Metropolitan Police Department gave unusual testimony in court: “The case was a fabrication.” What happened? The investigative authorities must thoroughly examine and explain the case.

In 2020, the MPD arrested the president and two others of a manufacturing company on suspicion of violating the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law by allegedly exporting without government permission a machine that could be used for military purposes.

The machine can process liquids into powder and is used to make products such as powdered milk. The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry’s ordinance stipulates that permission must be obtained before exporting items that have special functions. This is because there is concern that such items could be misused to manufacture biological weapons.

The three were indicted, but in 2021 just before the first hearing in the trial, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office withdrew the indictment. The defense argued that the machine did not fall under the category of products requiring export permission, based on repeated experiments on its own, and prosecutors found it difficult to refute the argument.

Although it may have been a difficult case to prove regarding the function of the machine, the three arrested were detained for up to 11 months, and one of them died of illness before the indictment was rescinded. The grief and anger of the person and his bereaved family must be more than one can imagine.

Even now, the police and prosecutors reportedly have not offered any explanation or apology. If they continue to maintain that there was nothing wrong with the investigation and show no remorse for what they have done, then it must be said that they are self-righteous.

This time, in a lawsuit seeking state compensation over the illegality of the investigation, the police officer in charge of the case at the MPD’s Public Security Bureau appeared as a witness and stated that the incident was a “fabrication.” Some of his statements could be taken to indicate that the desire for career advancement on the part of senior officers in the investigative headquarters was behind the incident.

Another police officer testified that he advised his superior to conduct an additional investigation but was told, “What if the case breaks down?”

Although the superior stated in court that it was a proper investigation, it is unprecedented for the two subordinates together to criticize the investigation. A ministry official in charge also testified that he repeatedly told the police that the case did not constitute unauthorized export.

The police may have stuck to the initial story they drew up about the case, refusing to look at evidence that was unfavorable to proving it. Did prosecutors properly lead the investigation? With so many voices raising questions about the investigation, the process should be clarified.

Economic security is becoming increasingly important. While it is important to strictly monitor Japan’s cutting-edge technology to ensure that it does not get leaked out of the country, investigations must not go to extremes.

It is only with the trust of the public that the police and prosecutors are given strong authority to make arrests and take other actions. If an investigation like this case is repeated, that trust could surely be shaken.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 20, 2023)