FIRM'S DEBT AT 580 BILLION YEN

Sogo vice president commits suicide

Kyodo

Yasuharu Abe, vice president of financially beleaguered department store operator Sogo Co., committed suicide Thursday at his home in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, police said. He was 63.

Police said Abe’s wife found him hanged in their home at around 7:15 a.m. Abe was wearing his pajamas. He had hanged himself with a necktie tied to a pillar in the living room, the police said.

Police said a suicide note addressed to Abe’s wife was found on the desk in his study. The message read: “I am sorry. Please forgive my selfishness.”

Abe’s death came a day after Sogo announced that the capital deficit for the entire Sogo group of companies had increased to 580 billion yen at the end of the 1999 business year, up from the 530 billion yen announced April 6.

Abe accompanied Sogo President Kyoichi Yamada, 72, to a news conference on Wednesday to announce the increase in the capital deficit.

Sogo incurred its huge debts after expanding its business operations during the years of the bubble economy. The chain has suffered badly during the prolonged economic slump from declining private consumption.

Sogo currently operates 28 stores nationwide, 14 of which are unprofitable.

The April 6 restructuring plan included requests for 73 major creditor banks to forgive claims on 639 billion yen in loans and the closure of four money-losing stores.

The requested debt wavier is the largest of its kind in Japanese corporate history.

Sogo Chairman Hiroo Mizushima, 88, resigned from his post Wednesday to take responsibility for the company’s financial problems. Mizushima effectively owned the department store chain.

Former Sogo President Eiichi Iwamura, 58, and Vice-Chairman Moriichi Inoue, 86, are also expected to resign from the board at the end of May.

Abe became Sogo’s vice president in 1994 after a 33-year career with the Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan. A graduate of Tohoku University Law School, Abe joined the now-defunct bank in 1961.