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Uproar online after 'elite' elderly driver who caused fatal crash not arrested

This file photo taken on April 19, 2019, shows Metropolitan Police Department investigators examining the front section of a bicycle at the scene of an accident in the Ikebukuro district in Tokyo's Toshima Ward that left a mother and her young daughter dead. (Mainichi/Toshiki Miyama)

TOKYO -- Strong criticism has emerged online after an elderly driver who fatally crashed his car into a mother and her young daughter at an intersection here last month has yet to be arrested over the incident, with many believing the offender's "elite" status in society is behind the lenient treatment.

The driver in the accident, Kozo Iizuka, 87, is a former head of the Agency of Industrial Science and Technology that fell under the control of the former Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) claims that Iizuka hasn't been arrested because they believe there is no fear of him destroying evidence and escaping from police as he is in hospital following the crash.

Mana Matsunaga and her 3-year-old daughter Riko, who both died in the April 19 accident, are seen at a park on April 6, 2019, in this photo provided by the family of the victims.

In the April 19 accident in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo's Toshima Ward, a speeding car driven by Iizuka fatally hit Mana Matsunaga, 31, and her 3-year-old daughter Riko, who were crossing an intersection on a bicycle after the traffic light had turned green.

The Code of Criminal Procedure and related rules stipulate that law enforcement authorities can arrest a suspect when there is a probable cause to believe they committed a crime and when there is fear of them destroying evidence and escaping from investigators. In this case, there is cause to arrest Iizuka as it's clear he caused the fatal accident. However, as he has been hospitalized with a cracked rib and other injuries, there is no fear of him escaping, according to the MPD.

Many people online are condemning the MPD's response to the matter, comparing the Ikebukuro incident with an April 21 bus accident which also left two people dead in Kobe. In the latter crash, municipal bus driver Fumio Ono, 64, who drove into pedestrians on a crosswalk, was arrested on the spot. The contrast of the response by police has spurred speculation that "the reason why Iizuka hasn't been arrested over a similar case is because he was a former high-ranking bureaucrat."

However, a senior MPD officer denied the speculation and told a Mainichi Shimbun reporter that investigators only knew that Iizuka was unemployed at the time of the car crash and later found he was a former high-ranking bureaucrat. Another police official pointed out that in the Kobe bus accident, Ono was not injured and that Iizuka would have been arrested if he had not been hospitalized.

Commenting on the case, Yuji Shiratori, a professor at Kanagawa University who specializes in the Code of Criminal Procedure, said, "While many people associate arrest with punishment, whether to arrest someone is not solely decided on by the seriousness of the incident. There are many cases in which people are indicted and stand trial without being arrested."

Ikuo Gonoi, a political scientist, believes that behind the public's anger is a distrust of the government and politics.

"The government has closed the curtain on favoritism scandals linked to Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution and on wage statistics irregularities by the labor ministry without sufficiently fulfilling its accountability. So a sense that people close to political power are being protected extralegally has spread through society. As a result, illogical thinking that Iizuka's elite status affected the decision on whether or not to arrest the former bureaucrat spread through the general public," commented Gonoi.

(Japanese original by Tomoko Igarashi, Ikuko Ando and Shota Harumashi, City News Department)

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