Statements Induced by Prosecutor: Are Improper Investigation Methods Nothing More Than Personal Failings?

If prosecutors think that some excesses can be tolerated in the name of uncovering wrongdoing, they are seriously mistaken. Prosecutors need to take the public’s distrust seriously.

In the vote-buying scandal involving former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai in connection with the 2019 House of Councillors election, the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office has released a report on the voluntary questioning of a then Hiroshima city assembly member, which was conducted by a prosecutor from the special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office. The report calls the questioning “inappropriate.”

Initially, the city assembly member denied being aware that the purpose of the cash he received from Kawai was to bribe him. However, during the questioning, the prosecutor stated that he wanted the assembly member to continue to be an assembly member and also hinted that he would search the assembly member’s house depending on the circumstances.

According to the report, the city assembly member signed a written deposition regarding his confession, believing that if he denied the allegations, he would be indicted and found guilty, and would lose his job. The report noted that “the prosecutor’s remarks made him expect he would be exempt from indictment, and hinted that if he denied the allegations, he would face the disadvantage of a mandatory investigation.”

When investigating offenses committed behind closed doors, such as in bribery and vote-buying scandals, the statements of the parties involved are crucial. For this reason, it is essential to closely examine what they said during an interrogation. It must be said that the prosecutor in this case lacked the proper attitude to rigorously find out the truth.

In this case, people including other local assembly members also stated that they had been “inappropriately interrogated.” The Hiroshima District Court, in its rulings on five people who were indicted, including city assembly members, noted that their interrogations had been conducted on the assumption that they could escape indictment.

The five were each questioned by different prosecutors. However, the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office concluded, based on information such as testimony from prosecutors, that there was no evidence of systematic instructions being given to conduct improper interrogations.

But does it all really come down to the personal qualities of the prosecutors? The report makes almost no reference to the background and motive of the problem. It is quite natural that the city assembly member and others criticized the internal investigation, which did not include a third party, as “lenient.”

Even if the inducement of statements was not based on systematic instructions, was there any unspoken pressure to get the suspects to confess at any cost? The prosecutors should not end the investigation by ascribing the problem to individual responsibility, but rather should make efforts as an organization to prevent a recurrence, through such measures as reforming its investigative methods, which have been criticized as being biased toward obtaining confessions.

Prosecutors are currently investigating a case involving hidden funds in connection with political fundraising parties organized by factions of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. They need to be careful not to set themselves up for more criticism that investigations are conducted in an arbitrary and unfair manner.

Prosecutors have the powerful authority to handle the entire process from investigation to indictment. It is necessary for them to remember that their powerful authority is based on the public’s trust.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 27, 2023)