By Kentaro Hamada and Osamu Tsukimori
TOKYO (Reuters) – A Japanese civilian judiciary panel on Friday forced prosecutors to indict three former Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) executives for failing to take measures to prevent the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The decision is unlikely to lead to a conviction of the former executives, after prosecutors twice said they would not bring charges, but means they will be summoned to appear in court to give evidence.
Tokyo prosecutors in January rejected the panel’s judgment that the three should be charged, citing insufficient evidence. But the 11 unidentified citizens on the panel forced the indictment after a second vote, which makes an indictment mandatory.
The three are former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 75, and former executives Sakae Muto, 65, and Ichiro Takekuro, 69.
Citizens’ panels, made up of residents selected by lottery, are a rarely used but high-profile feature of Japan’s legal system introduced after World War II to curb bureaucratic overreach.
The panel ruled that the former executives had failed to take countermeasures to strengthen the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant despite foreseeing the dangers of a severe nuclear crisis it faced from tsunamis, according to a copy of the 31-page ruling seen by Reuters.
The Tokyo Public Prosecutors’ office could not be immediately reached for comment.
An earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 destroyed the plant, 220 km (130 miles) northeast of Tokyo, sparking triple nuclear meltdowns, forcing more than 160,000 residents to flee nearby towns and contaminating water, food and air in the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
Prosecutors declined in 2013 to charge more than 30 Tepco and other officials who had been accused by residents of ignoring the risks of natural disasters and failing to respond appropriately to the crisis.
Prosecutors reopened the case after the citizens’ panel ruled last year that the three former Tepco executives should be charged.
(Editing by Aaron Sheldrick and Nick Macfie)