Japan's Ichiro Ozawa 'to face charges' over scandal

Ichiro Ozawa
Image caption Ichiro Ozawa lost to Prime Minister Naoto Kan in a Democratic Party leadership race in September

A judicial panel in Japan says Ichiro Ozawa, one of the governing Democratic Party's top figures, should be charged over a political fund-raising scandal.

The panel criticised earlier decisions by prosecutors not to indict Mr Ozawa over alleged false reporting by his fund management company.

The ruling means courts must now appoint lawyers to prosecute him.

Last month Mr Ozawa failed in a leadership challenge to Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

The 68-year-old has been so powerful in Japanese politics that he's known as the "shadow shogun".

He helped to found the governing Democratic Party of Japan, and is widely credited with overseeing its election victory last year, which ended half a century of almost unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party.

But Mr Ozawa has been dogged by a scandal over political fund-raising. He has dismissed the allegations as politically motivated.

Prosecutors raided his offices and charged three of his former assistants, but said there was not enough evidence to take action against the politician himself.

Now a judicial panel of ordinary citizens appointed to review the case has overturned their decision, saying it was questionable.

Some in Japan believe since losing the leadership challenge last month, Mr Ozawa had been biding his time before trying again.

But the ruling by the citizens' panel means the courts must now appoint lawyers to prosecute him.

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