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PM Abe calls ex-Moritomo chair 'person who commits fraud' before start of trial

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Mainichi)

Legal experts are slamming Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for calling the former chairman of scandal-hit school operator Moritomo Gakuen "a person who commits a fraud" on TV, as his comment could be taken as a violation of the independence of the judiciary.

Abe appeared in a party leaders' debate on TV Asahi network's news program "Hodo Station" on the night of Oct. 11. When asked about the necessity of verifying the process of the shady sale of state-owned land to former Moritomo Gakuen chairman Yasunori Kagoike, who has been indicted on suspicion of defrauding the state of subsidies, Abe denied he or his wife Akie had been involved.

"It was indeed problematic that my wife accepted the offer to become the honorary principal at a school planned by a person who commits a fraud," Abe said on-air. He added that his wife "was tricked because (Kagoike) is that kind of person."

As the head of the executive branch of the government, the prime minister has the right to appoint or remove a justice minister, who in turn has the power to issue instructions to the prosecutor-general regarding specific criminal cases.

Lawyer and former public prosecutor Nobuo Gohara pointed out that the presumption of innocence is a fundamental principle in criminal cases. He said that while Kagoike has been indicted, he reportedly remains silent, and as his trial hasn't even started he has had no opportunity to give his account of the case.

"From the perspective of the independence of the judiciary, it's inexcusable for the chief of the administration to talk as if the charges are definitely true," Gohara said.

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