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Japan`s kingmaker questioned over scandal: Reports

Last Updated: Saturday, January 23, 2010 - 14:43

Japan: Japanese prosecutors on Saturday questioned Ichiro Ozawa, the kingmaker of the ruling coalition, over a funding scandal that has rocked the centre-left government, local media reported.
Ozawa, 67, secretary general of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama`s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), appeared for questioning at a Tokyo hotel after weeks of refusals, Japanese public broadcaster NHK and Jiji Press said.

More than 200 reporters and photographers swarmed outside the building waiting for Ozawa, often dubbed the government`s "shadow shogun”.

The scandal has dealt a serious blow to Hatoyama, who has seen his public support slide rapidly ahead of a national election in July seen as a test for the DPJ`s ability to hold on to power over the long term.

Prosecutors have raided Ozawa`s offices and arrested three of his former or current aides to investigate whether he took millions of dollars in bribes from construction firms and invested the money in Tokyo property.

The veteran of Japanese backroom politics and the architect of last summer`s landslide election win has angrily professed his innocence and publicly questioned the motives of the prosecutors.

But, reversing his earlier stance, Ozawa has decided to accept questioning after growing criticism of his position even among ruling coalition members.

"As a politician, he needs to explain to people sincerely," Mizuho Fukushima, head of the Socialist Party -- one of the two junior coalition partners -- told her party convention on Saturday.

A US research institute last week ranked Ozawa third on a list of the most influential leaders shaping global politics in 2010 following Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and US President Barack Obama.

Hatoyama, who faces his own money scandal for dipping into his family fortune to fund political activities, expressed his support for Ozawa, telling him to "please fight" the prosecutors.

The Premier, who is theoretically authorised to interrupt any probe by prosecutors, has since denied trying to strong-arm investigators into going easy on Ozawa.

The DPJ in August toppled the conservative party that had dominated politics for a half-century as part of an "iron triangle" with big business and the bureaucracy -- a system the new leaders have pledged to dismantle.

Bureau Report

First Published: Saturday, January 23, 2010 - 14:43

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