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Top Politician Agrees to Testify Before Japanese Ethics Panel


Japanese political power broker Ichiro Ozawa attends a news conference in Tokyo, 28 Dec. 2010

Japanese political power broker Ichiro Ozawa attends a news conference in Tokyo, 28 Dec. 2010

Ichiro Ozawa, a behind-the-scenes power broker in Japan's ruling party, says he has agreed after weeks of resistance to testify before a parliamentary ethics panel about a political funding scandal.

Ozawa, a member of parliament and former leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, announced his decision at a press conference on Tuesday, a day after senior party officials decided to formally seek his appearance before the committee. Until Tuesday, Ozawa had maintained that the allegations should not be discussed outside legal proceedings.

Ozawa is due be indicted next month in connection with alleged irregularities in a political fund he controlled, and party officials have hinted that Ozawa should resign from the party when that happens. The scandal has contributed to a collapse in public support for Prime Minister Naoto Kan, whose disapproval rating stands at 65 percent or higher in recent polls.

The dispute has deeply divided the DPJ, complicating its efforts to pass important economic legislation. Ozawa said Tuesday that he regrets having caused worries for his friends and for the Japanese people.

Three former aides to Ozawa have already been charged in the case, which alleges that Ozawa's fund issued false reports concerning millions of dollars in 2004 and 2005.

The prosecutors have twice decided there is not sufficient evidence to charge Ozawa. But an independent panel of citizens has twice decided that he should be indicted. Under Japanese law, that leaves the prosecutors with no choice but to charge him.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.

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