Nakao gets two-year prison term

Bribe-taking ex-construction chief also fined 60 million yen

Former Construction Minister Eiichi Nakao was sentenced Wednesday to two years in prison and fined 60 million yen for accepting 60 million yen in bribes from Wakachiku Construction Co. in 1996 while serving as a Cabinet member.

The Tokyo District Court convicted Nakao, a 72-year-old former Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker, of taking the money from Wakachiku’s chairman at the time, Hiroshi Ishibashi, in return for promising to help the Tokyo-based firm win public works contracts.

Nakao’s defense counsel said the ex-minister will appeal the decision.

Presiding Judge Nobuyuki Kiguchi said Nakao bears a grave criminal responsibility and deserves harsh criticism for damaging the public’s trust in politics.

“He has shown profound remorse, but it is not appropriate to suspend the prison term,” the judge said.

Nakao, who was arrested in June 2000 shortly after failing to win re-election to the House of Representatives in the June 25 general election, appeared at Wednesday’s session in a wheelchair, citing an arthritic hip joint.

At his first trial session in December 2000, Nakao pleaded guilty to the bribery charge and apologized to the public for having betrayed their confidence.

Nakao asked for leniency, claiming he became caught up in maneuvering by behind-the-scenes fixers, including Heo Young Jong, who was implicated in fraud scandals involving now-defunct trading firms Itoman Corp. and Ishibashi Sangyo, Wakachiku’s parent company.

Prosecutors had demanded a 3 1/2-year prison term and a 60 million yen fine.

Nakao accepted a total of 60 million yen in cash and checks from Hiroshi Ishibashi on four occasions between June 1996 and October the same year. In return, Nakao promised Ishibashi he would favor Wakachiku Construction with regard to bids for public works contracts and would send influential retired bureaucrats to take jobs at the firm, the court was told.

Ishibashi has not been prosecuted because the three-year statute of limitations for offering bribes has expired.

Nakao, who was first elected to the Diet in 1967, became construction minister in January 1996 as part of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. He previously served as minister of international trade and industry.

Chikage Ogi, minister of land, infrastructure and transport, told a news conference: “It is regrettable that such an incident was brought about. I believe lawmakers need to raise their consciousness.”