Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Chinese Fishing Boat Captain Slips Through The Net Again

So much for all that.

The other day I had a post on the Committees for the Inquest of the Prosecution, the liberalization of indictment procedures intended to serve as a backup route for citizens to bring to justice politicians and power brokers prosecutors found too intimidating to challenge. Unfortunately, the Committees have morphed into tools for conspiracy theorists and self-righteous vigilanteism.

Except in the post I praised the decision of the Naha Committee for the Inquest of the Prosecution to indict the Chinese fishing boat captain who rammed two Japan Coast vessels patrolling the waters off the Senkaku Islets in September 2010. The captain was arrested on charges of interfering with officers of the Government of Japan carrying out their duties -- which any sane person would admit he did. The Naha Prosecutors Office, however, after receiving the captain from the Coast Guard, dropped all charges against him on the peculiar, extra-legal excuse that the arrest had become an international incident.

"So what does that have to do with anything? That the arrest is becoming an international incident is Kasumigaseki's problem, not yours," was the response from the public -- which saw the release as the result of base and craven (no one in Tokyo would admit to having pressured the Naha prosecutors) political meddling in the judicial process.

For once, it seemed, a Committee for the Inquest of the Prosecution was going to perform the function for which it had been created: indicting and bringing to trial someone the prosecutors would not touch due to their spinelessness.

Indict him they did and bring him to trial they did -- but that is the end of the story. Last Thursday the presiding judge Suzuki Hideyuki revoked the right to prosecute (koso gikyaku) in the case, ending the trial.

The judge's action came after the three court-appointed lawyers failed to deliver a letter of indictment to the ship's captain within the requisite 60 days after they filed their mandated indictment (kyosei kiso) on March 15, 2012. The lawyers had until midnight, May 16 to provide the court with proof the indictment had been delivered. (J)

That they failed to complete their task in the allotted time should surprise no one. Under the Treaty between Japan and the People's Republic of China on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters (2007) indictments handed down in Japanese courts are sent to the Homusho (Ministry of Justice) which then forwards them to its counterpart in China, the Zhongguo Renmin Gongheguo Shifabu.

Funny thing happened to that Naha District Court letter of indictment, or did not happen, as the case might be. The Zhongguo Renmin Gongheguo Shifabu seems to have not forwarded the letter to local authorities to serve to the captain. Indeed, just to demonstrate that tough-minded justice ministry bureaucrats that they may be, those working at the Zhongguo Renmin Gongheguo Shifabu are not without a sense of humor, they waited, according to the Sankei Shimbun, until May 15, the day before the expiration date of the letter of indictment, to send a message to Ministry of Justice of Japan that:

"As the Senkakus Islets (sic) are our national territory, we cannot accept applications made by the judiciary of Japan." (J)*

The Sankei Shimbun is understandably up in arms about these developments. It demands to know why Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko did not bring up the matter of the non-delivery of the letter of indictment when he met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on May 13.

Gosh, why would he not bring the matter up? Why would that be? Can anyone think of a reason? Or any number of reasons?

So the case -- which had the potential of becoming a major irritant in the bilateral relationship -- ends not with bang, but with a snigger.

Later - This post has been edited for clarity.

* The Sankei Shimbun commits a howling error here. There is no way that the PRC Ministry of Justice would refer to the islands in question as the Senkaku shoto.

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