“Prosecutors,” observes the daily Nikkan Gendai (June 9), “are bad losers.”
Fifteen years behind bars is a brutal price to pay for overstaying your visa. Govinda Prasad Mainali of Nepal did that. He entered Japan in 1994 on a three-month tourist visa, found work at a Tokyo Indian restaurant, and was still there in March 1997, when a 39-year-old prostitute was murdered nearby. Mainali, one of her customers, was arrested, first for overstaying, then as a murder suspect.
When the story first broke it was the victim who captured most of the attention. Her “double life” was fascinating – prostitute by night, by day an economist with Tokyo Electric Power Company. Here was a mystery indeed. What had driven her to the streets? Mainali’s arrest and trial were a sideshow in comparison.
That changed when he was found innocent. Tokyo District Court Judge Toshikazu Obuchi in April 2000 found the evidence against him thin and circumstantial. Prosecutors promptly appealed – a move that, together with a notorious 99% conviction rate, reinforced a widespread notion that Japan’s court system is heavily weighted in the prosecution’s favor. In December 2000 the Tokyo High Court found Mainali guilty. In October 2003 the Supreme Court upheld that verdict.
Last July fresh DNA evidence linked semen and body hair found at the scene to a man other than Mainali. Eleven months later – on June 7 – the Tokyo High Court granted a retrial, Judge Masayoshi Ogawa declaring, “The [DNA] test results make it an undeniable possibility that another man could have murdered the victim.”
Fifteen years after his arrest, Mainali is at last free. Deportation to Nepal is pending. But prosecutors, says Nikkan Gendai, refuse to admit defeat. They promptly filed a motion to have the retrial decision reconsidered. “Saving face,” declares the daily, “is more important to the prosecution than human rights.” A final decision could take another year. Mainali will be out of jail and out of the country, but if closure is what he hopes for, his time for that is not yet.
Mainali’s case presents an additional motive for the prosecution, tenacious at the best of times, to dig in its heels. Mainali being foreign, his case is in the international spotlight. Nikkan Gendai quotes an unnamed prosecutor as saying, “A not guilty verdict could have international repercussions.” He presumably means it would discredit Japan’s justice system. But a guilty verdict would be no less discrediting, because few observers would believe it.