Corrupt ex-minister handed 16 months for bilking state

Kyodo

The Nagoya District Court sentenced former home affairs minister Kanju Sato to 16 months in prison Thursday for defrauding the state out of 17 million yen.

Presiding Judge Shinichiro Ito said: “It is a crime of a peculiar nature in which the defendant abused his status as a Diet member. The amount of money defrauded is large, at 17 million yen, and the crime was committed over a long period, of two years and eight months.”

The money was paid to Sato as a salary for a secretary who never actually worked for him. The judge dismissed the defense’s request for a suspended sentence.

Sato, 62, immediately appealed to a high court, according to his lawyer, Takao Oguri, who added that the prison term is “unjustly long.” Prosecutors had demanded a 30-month term.

Sato received the money between July 2000 and April 2003 by falsely registering a woman as one of his state-paid secretaries, the court said.

Yoshihiro Nambu, deputy chief prosecutor at the Nagoya District Public Prosecutor’s Office, said the sentence is “appropriate,” but noted the state will study whether to appeal for a harsher one.

Sato pleaded guilty at the opening session of his trial on July 13. His counsel asked the court for leniency, saying he had resigned as a lawmaker to accept the blame and had returned the money.

Sato, a member of the Democratic Party of Japan, resigned from the House of Representatives on March 5 after the scam was revealed. He was expelled from the party the same day.

Sato was first elected to the Lower House in 1969, and had been re-elected 10 times as of 2003. He served as home affairs minister and concurrently as chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, which supervises police, in 1993.

He is the fourth former lawmaker to be found guilty of fraudulently obtaining state money for secretaries.

Of the four, former Lower House member Yojiro Nakajima, who belonged to the Liberal Democratic Party, committed suicide in 2001 while appealing to the Supreme Court against a two-year prison term for charges that included bribery and salary fraud.

Joji Yamamoto, who was a Lower House member from the DPJ, was released from prison in August 2002 after serving 14 months of an 18-month sentence for secretary-salary fraud and political fund control law violations.

Kiyomi Tsujimoto, a former Lower Hosue member with the Social Democratic Party, received a suspended sentence for secretary-salary fraud. She ran unsuccessfully for an Upper House seat in the July election.