FOLLOW-UP:Three U.S. teens cleared in Japan case(12-27-09)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Japanese authorities are expected to decide this week whether four American teenagers will be investigated on suspicion of causing a serious traffic injury over the summer, a base spokesman said Tuesday.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department has not charged the teens and has not opened an official investigation into their possible involvement. But Japanese authorities have informed Yokota officials that the teens — whose parents are stationed here — are potential suspects in the August incident that left a Japanese woman in a coma after her motorcycle flipped when she struck a rope that was stretched across a street near the base, Yokota spokesman Maj. Christopher Watt said.

The victim has since come out of the coma and has been discharged from the hospital, he said.

Watt said base officials believe Japanese authorities have refrained from launching a formal probe until they determine if there’s sufficient evidence. Should there be an arrest, Japanese law requires that a decision on whether to bring charges be made within 23 days.

“We’re supposed to hear in the next couple of days what the prosecutors are going to do,” Watt said Tuesday.

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations is assisting in the case.

Japanese police and prosecutors would not comment on the case Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Japanese authorities asked that the teens be prohibited from leaving Japan on military-sponsored travel. The Air Force complied, and the teens voluntarily surrendered their passports to base officials as a “good faith” sign of their cooperation in the matter, Watt said.

It was unclear Tuesday whether the teens live on base.

Meanwhile, military attorneys are wrangling with Japanese prosecutors over the teens’ rights in the Japanese legal system should they be officially investigated or charged, Maj. Neal Fisher, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Japan said Tuesday.

The U.S. contends the teens would qualify for the same protections as American troops under criminal investigation by Japanese authorities as defined by the status of forces agreement, Fisher said. Japan argues that dependents are not afforded the same rights, he said.

At the heart of the discrepancy is whether Japanese police could take the teens into custody before officially charging them.

Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this story.

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