TOKYO (AP) _ The Tokyo prosecutors office, long viewed as the lone crusader against corruption in Japanese politics, may end up as the biggest casualty in the latest scandal.

There are growing signs of outrage over how prosecutors handled the corruption case of Shin Kanemaru, the most powerful politician in the governing Liberal Democratic Party.

The deferential treatment he received, critics say, shows the Japanese democracy, which dates to the U.S. occupation after World War II, lacks sophistication. They say the judicial system is still not independent of powerful politicians.

''The prosecutors have given special treatment to Kanemaru, although under the constitution, all people are equal before the law,'' said Kaoru Okano, a professor of politics at Meiji University. ''Japanese democracy can only be said to be in its kindergarten stage.''

In a widely reported deal with the prosecutors, Kanemaru, 78, acknowledged accepting $4 million in contributions from a mob-tainted trucking executive, several hundred times the maximum allowed for donations from a single source in one year.

In return, prosecutors agreed not to submit him to embarrassing questioning that many say could shed further light on the scandal, possibly implicating more politicians or providing details of suspected links between politicians and the underworld.

On Tuesday, prosecutors sent Kanemaru a notice to pay a summary fine of nearly $1,700, or .04 percent of the contribution.

Tokyo prosecutors earlier won respect from the public as torchbearers of justice for the arrest of a powerful former prime minister on bribery charges in 1976 and for their investigation of another scandal in the late 1980s that forced two prime ministers to resign.

The prosecutors often have been praised as more effective than Japan's weak opposition parties in exposing the corruption of the Liberal Democrats, who have run the government for nearly four decades.

But this time, the prosecutors are widely viewed as compromising their principles by giving deferential treatment to Kanemaru.

''There has never been a prosecutor's decision so out-of-touch from people's common sense as this one,'' the national newspaper Mainichi said in an editorial. ''To prevent the spread of distrust toward politics to a distrust toward the prosecution, an explanation to the people is in order.''

One man expressed his disenchantment by smashing bottles of paint against the sign in front of the prosecutors office in downtown Tokyo.

Criticism has even sprung from within the ranks of the nation's prosecutors. Michio Sato, superintendent public prosecutor in the northern city of Sapporo, assailed the decision not to interrogate Kanemaru in an opinion piece published Tuesday in the national newspaper Asahi.

''There should never be special treatment for a special person in the judicial world,'' he wrote.

Sato did not mention Kanemaru by name but made the reference obvious by outlining details of the case, named the Sagawa scandal after the trucking company that allegedly gave huge campaign contributions to Kanemaru and several other Liberal Democrats, a charge its former president has denied.

Leading newspapers carried man-on-the-street interviews that expressed fury over the scandal.

''This can't be the end of the Sagawa scandal, can it? I have been disillusioned by the prosecutors,'' Kyoko Ebashi, 42, was quoted as saying in the newspaper Tokyo Shimbun.

A former prefectural governor also charged with accepting Sagawa money complained that prosecutors' were treating him more harshly than Kanemaru.

Lawyers for the former governor, Kiyoshi Kaneko, said in a statement that he was not given the option of skipping a trial by paying a summary fine as was Kanemaru.

''This certainly means that the honest ones get the dumb end of the deal,'' the statement said. ''And it is regrettable that it gives the impression to the people that the prosecutors are none other than evil magistrates who bend to authority and pick on the weak.''