The government is struggling to decide whether to push forward with the criminalization of the act of conspiracy, which has been stalled for years, with strong international pressure for such a move and reluctance at home.
It is still undecided on whether to submit a bill to the extraordinary Diet session this autumn to revise the law against organized crime to criminalize the act of conspiracy.
The move for submitting the bill reflects strong demand from the international community for the criminalization, as this move is needed for Japan to ratify the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
But some members of the ruling parties are reluctant to submit the bill over concern that the legal change may drag down approval ratings for the Abe administration, adversely affecting local elections.
According to the bill, investigative authorities will be authorized to charge individuals when they have planned and are prepared to commit serious crimes.
The U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime has been ratified by 179 nations as of July. Only a small number of nations, including North Korea and Iran, have not joined the convention.
Japan passed a bill to approve the convention in 2003, supported by both ruling and opposition parties, including the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito, the Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party.
The government faced stiff resistance on another bill to revise the law against organized crime however, even though it faithfully reflected the contents of the U.N. convention. Those who opposed the bill raised concerns about the extent of the organizations and crimes that would be targeted, stating that investigative authorities could abuse the new system.
The government submitted the bill on three occasions from 2003 to 2005, but the bill was scrapped each time.
The delay in passing the bill was criticized by the United States and European countries, which claimed Japan was not cooperating in building international networks against such crimes as terrorism and drug trafficking.
In June, the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental body tasked with combating money laundering and other threats to the international financial system, released a statement calling on Japan to enact laws necessary to ratify the U.N. convention.
Some government officials are voicing concern that further delays could impede Japan’s progress with the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.
Meanwhile, the government has decided to postpone submitting a bill on Japan’s exercise of the right of collective self-defense to next year’s regular Diet session. The decision prompted government officials and LDP members supporting the criminalization of conspiracy to believe autumn’s extraordinary Diet session presents an opportune time to submit the bill to revise the law against organized crime.
However, the Prime Minister’s Office is reportedly taking a cautious approach on the bill. The Justice Ministry tried to submit the bill to this year’s regular Diet session, but the office prevented this because of a public backlash against the passage of the state secrecy law by the extraordinary Diet session last year.
Approval ratings for the Cabinet recently dropped after it approved the government’s new constitutional interpretation that allows the limited right of collective self-defense. In addition, a candidate backed by the LDP and Komeito suffered a loss in the Shiga gubernatorial election.
Those lawmakers who are reluctant to pass the bill concerning the criminalization of conspiracy said it should be postponed ahead of key local elections, particularly in the face of public criticism. The Fukushima gubernatorial election is scheduled for October followed by the Okinawa gubernatorial election a month later, as well as a unified local election set for next spring.
Komeito is also worried. “We must not pass the bill unless its contents are revised to dispel concerns completely,” a party member said.
Reflecting on the situation, Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki is taking a noncommittal approach toward the issue. “We cannot deny the fact that the criminalization [of conspiracy] must be carried out someday,” Tanigaki said. “But we should carefully assess whether the conditions [for submitting the bill] are met.”