FORMER Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone defiantly denied all charges of corruption against him in almost three hours of sworn testimony Thursday before Japan's parliament. ``I did not do anything wrong,'' the senior politician said in a confident voice. ``I am innocent.'' Despite repeated demands by angry opposition questioners that he resign for his role in the massive Recruit Company scandal, Mr. Nakasone was unwavering in his insistence that ``I am not going to give up my seat as a [member of parliament]. I am going to do my best for the nation.''
Nakasone's subpoenaed appearance, the first by a former or sitting prime minister since 1948, was the culmination of the almost year-long investigation into the corruption scandal. For months opposition parties have boycotted parliament to demand his testimony.
Nakasone decided to appear, he said, when it was clear the prosecutors' investigation would not yield any charges against him.
``I was sure that the investigation by the prosecutors' office would prove that,'' Nakasone told the nation. ``There is no scandal around me. The rumors in the newspapers and magazines are groundless.''
The immediate reaction of many Japanese political observers was that, as one veteran reporter for a major daily put it, ``he did very well'' in handling his interrogation. But his testimony is unlikely to fulfill the need for kejime, a Japanese word meaning to take some action which would make a clear dividing line between the present and the past.
``The [ruling] Liberal Democratic Party sees Nakasone's testimony as kejime,'' the political reporter comments. ``But as far as the impression of the Japanese public is concerned, it only leaves them feeling more frustrated. The image of the LDP cannot be revived so easily.''
The LDP clearly hopes now to put the scandal behind them and shift the focus of its efforts to finding a suitable successor for Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita. Mr. Takeshita last month announced his decision to step down because of his own involvement in the scandal. The party leadership has been unable to find a person with sufficient stature whose hands are clean.
Takeshita moved this week to take a more prominent role in the selection of his successor. His meeting with former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda prompted widespread speculation that the 84-year-old politician might take the post. But Mr. Fukuda has repeatedly remarked that his advanced age rules him out.
Still, public feelings are running high that the Recruit case is far from resolved. Earlier this week, prosecutors indicted two politicians, including a senior ruling party leader who is a close aide to Nakasone. But the prosecutors disappointed many by failing to gather sufficient evidence to indict Nakasone himself and several other senior ruling party leaders, all of whom received large funds from the Recruit Company.
The liberal daily Asahi Shimbun accused the prosecutors of having only ``scooped just a small amount of dirt from the sea of mud,'' and having ``not revealed a complete picture of the scandal.''
Yesterday morning Justice Minister Masami Takatsuji told the parliament that ``the investigation is finally coming to an end.'' He summarized the probes into Recruit's efforts to bribe government officials and politicians to gain favors related to its employment and information service business. A total of 12 persons have been indicted in the case, including Recruit's founder, Hiromasa Ezoi, and the chairman of the national telephone company, NTT.
During the interrogation, broadcast live but without moving television pictures, Nakasone was questioned on three basic issues. The most serious was the acquisition by his aides of 29,000 pre-flotation shares in Recruit Cosmos Company, a real estate subsidiary of Recruit. The sale of the shares yielded about $450,000 in guaranteed profits. Nakasone claimed the purchases were done by his secretaries for their own business purposes. He also denied accusations that he helped Mr. Ezoi in his business and got him appointed to a prestigious government commission.
Finally, Nakasone absolutely refuted charges that he arranged the purchase of US-made supercomputers by Recruit, through NTT, to help develop its information business. Nakasone admitted he promoted purchases in response to US demands for greater access to the Japanese supercomputer market, but not specifically for use by Recruit.