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Japan court clears Ichiro Ozawa in funding scandal

A Tokyo court has acquitted "shadow shogun" Ichiro Ozawa of violating political funding laws, in a ruling that will complicate Prime Minster Yoshihiko Noda's controversial plans to double Japan's sales tax.

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Ichiro Ozawa (C), ex-leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, enters the Tokyo District Court in Tokyo on October 6, 2011. (JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)

A Tokyo court has acquitted divisive Japanese politician Ichiro Ozawa of violating political funding laws, freeing up the so-called “shadow shogun” to resume his attacks on Prime Minster Yoshihiko Noda and the government’s contentious sales tax hike plan.

According to The New York Times, the Tokyo District Court cleared Ozawa on Thursday of charges related to a $4.9 million real estate purchase by a campaign fund-raising group in 2004.

Prosecutors had called for a three-year prison sentence for Ozawa, who wields great power in backroom Japanese politics, arguing that the 69-year-old had conspired with political aides to conceal money he had lent the group to finance the purchase.

Ozawa, who leads the largest faction in Japan’s ruling Democratic Party (DPH), said it was a technical mistake of which he had been unaware, and claimed the charges against him were politically motivated.

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In a statement, Ozawa “paid his respects” to the court “for showing common sense and justice,” and thanked his “comrades and people across the country for supporting me up to today,” Reuters reports.

According to the BBC, Thursday’s ruling could impact negatively on Noda’s government, and is a blow to the prime minister’s plans to double Japan’s 5 percent sales tax in order to tackle Japan’s spiralling $12 trillion public debt and meet rising welfare spending needs.

Ozawa, who is currently suspended from the DPJ, says the measure would hit the public hard at a time when the Japanese economy is struggling. 

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/japan/120426/japan-court-clears-ichiro-ozawa-funding-scandal