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Powerful Japanese lawmaker indicted over funding

A powerful lawmaker from Japan's ruling party said he was indicted Monday over a funding scandal, the latest setback for a political kingpin once on track to be the country's prime minister.

Ichiro Ozawa, who was an early member of the Democratic Party of Japan and engineered its historic rise to power, has long proclaimed his innocence, and prosecutors that questioned him multiple times previously declined to indict him.

Ozawa is accused of violating political funding laws by falsifying records relating to a 2004 Tokyo land deal. Several of his former aides have already been charged with modifying records involving the 400 million yen ($4.9 million) purchase to hide political donations.

"As I've said in the past on various occasions, I have nothing to be ashamed of," Ozawa told reporters in Tokyo.

He added that he would not leave the Democrats as some have speculated, a step that could divide the party as it tries to implement key economic reforms, including raising the consumption tax, against strong political opposition.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said during public budget hearings Monday that he was aware of the indictment, but declined to comment further.

Before the case broke, Ozawa led the Democrats and was widely seen as Japan's next leader if the party rose to power. The party won control of the country in a historic election in 2009, but the scandal forced him to step down from his leadership role.

Close ally Yukio Hatoyama became party chief and prime minister in his place, but resigned amid widespread voter dissatisfaction last year. Kan took control of the party, defeating a challenge from Ozawa, and replaced many of its top officials.

Ozawa is widely viewed as a back room wheeler-dealer, representing an older, closed style of politics that many Japanese voters have come to resent. He has made controversial statements in the past, including calling Americans "simple-minded," and saying Christianity is an "exclusive" religion that weighs down Western society.

After Tokyo prosecutors declined to indict him, a judicial panel of ordinary citizens decided that he should be indicted under a special prosecution law. Recent legal reforms allow such panels to appeal prosecutors' decisions.