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Court decision announced in decades-old secrets scandal

Date Posted: 2007-03-29

A diplomatic scandal involving secret payments by Japan to the US during the reversion process more than three decades ago is back in the news.

A Tokyo District Court judge has rejected a journalist’s arguments he was wrongfully convicted of revealing the secrets in newspaper articles. Judge Kenichi Kato ruled the statute of limitations had expired, making the suit null and void. Takichi Nishiyama has already vowed to take his case to the Tokyo High Court.

The journalist who revealed the secret pact in a 1971 Mainichi newspaper article was arrested and convicted in 1978 for violating the Japanese National Public Service Law. Nishiyama published the story that millions of dollars in secret payments were negotiated between the two governments, something both countries denied. He had discovered the top secret documents earlier in 1971 that showed more than $4 million of the costs of returning Okinawa to Japan, which had been under American control since World War II, were to be paid by Japan. What he did not tell Mainichi readers was that his source of the documents was a Foreign Ministry secretary who was also his lover. She was convicted of revealing state secrets, and he for helping her.

Okinawa was returned to Japanese control in 1972.

His newspaper and the public had initially supported the disgraced journalist’s reporting, but turned on him after word came out he was in the love affair with the secretary. That anger nearly killed the Mainichi newspaper, which continued to support Nishiyama even after it knew the information came through his seducing the secretary. Ultimately, the paper went bankrupt. Mainichi is back, but not as strong as it was in the 1970’s.

The former political affairs reporter made matters worse, after there was little reaction to his stories about the scandal, by turning the sensitive, incriminating documents over to a politician who used them against the government.

Nishiyama left journalism in disgrace, experienced family difficulties before reconciling and working in a family business. The secretary wound up getting a divorce.

Government denials of the top secret pact continued until 2000, when a pair of U.S. government secret documents were discovered, both lending credence to Nishiyama’s reporting. One of those documents went so far as to ask Japan not to reveal the secret deal.

It was then that the Nishiyama, now 75, decided to file a suit against the Japanese government. In a scandal comparable to American’s Watergate of the 1970’s, Nishiyama’s ordeal led him to demand an apology from the government, together with payment of ¥33 million damages. Initial arguments in the civil case began in 2005.

“It still irks me they never even touched on the core of the secret at my trial,” he told the Shukan Asahi weekly newspaper in May 2005. “I was tried for obtaining documents with state secrets, so they should have considered the nature of the secrets.” The government rejected his argument in 2005, saying the statute of limitations had expired even if there was merit to Nishiyama’s arguments.

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