Japan war crimes claim sparks France libel case

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A Franco-Japanese society accused a French academic on Monday of defaming it by branding its late founder a war criminal for his past in Japan during World War II.

The Franco-Japanese Sasakawa Foundation said Karoline Postel-Vinay, an academic at Paris's elite politics school Science Po, harmed its image by issuing a petition citing the wartime past of its founder, Ryoichi Sasakawa.

The petition in 2008 urged France's foreign ministry to pull out of a conference sponsored by the foundation, citing Sasakawa's arrest in the wake of Japan's defeat in the war and his alleged links to Japanese gangsters.

Sasakawa, a well-known and controversial right-wing figure in Japan, was detained by the United States on suspicion of war crimes but never went to trial and was released in 1948.

The foundation's lawyer Philippe Metais told the court on Monday that the petition "infringed the honour and dignity of the foundation", named after the businessman who set it up in 1990, five years before his death.

Postel-Vinay said in her defence that a Japanese academic told her "Sasakawa's past as a war criminal and his links to the mob were so well known in Japan that he thought this trial was a joke."

Metais defended Sasakawa's record, saying: "The Americans were planning to put him on trial, but he was not, he was released." He accused Postel-Vinay of relying on "approximations and untruthful elements."

Her defence in turn cited a note written in 1947 by the American allied commander at the time, Douglas MacArthur, who described Sasakawa as "one of the worst criminals outside of the (Japanese) army."

The court said it would give a verdict on September 22.

© 2010 AFP

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