Murakami issues closing denial of NBS inside trading

by Jun Hongo

The high-profile trial of Yoshiaki Murakami wrapped up Tuesday with the flamboyant fund manager maintaining he did not commit insider trading and reiterating that his purchase of Nippon Broadcasting Inc. shares was not motivated by knowledge that Livedoor Co. intended to make a move on the broadcaster.

Rather, Murakami said, he did not believe the Internet firm was capable of buying a major stake in NBS when he heard about the plan in 2004.

Murakami, 47, once among the nation’s most illustrious fund managers, was arrested last June for alleged involvement in insider trading of NBS shares in 2004 and 2005. He has maintained his innocence throughout his Tokyo District Court trial.

In his closing arguments, the former trade ministry bureaucrat again defied prosecutors, who are seeking a three-year prison sentence, a forfeit of 1.1 billion yen and a fine of 3 million yen.

“The experience of attending this trial as the accused still seems unreal,” Murakami said, arguing the allegations against him were so far from reality that he felt as if “a different Yoshiaki Murakami” were being tried.

The defense team also released a 500-page statement in which they said that when Murakami first heard of Livedoor’s plan to obtain a substantial number of NBS shares in 2004 he thought the firm’s chances were slim, and that evidence provided by the prosecutors was baseless.

Presiding Judge Kunihiko Koma said the ruling will be handed down July 19.

Murakami stands accused of violating the Securities and Exchange Law by trading in NBS shares with insider information obtained from Livedoor executives regarding the plan by the Internet startup, founded by entrepreneur Takafumi Horie, to buy shares of the radio broadcaster.

Horie was convicted in March of falsifying company accounts and misleading investors. He is currently appealing the ruling.

Prosecutors have argued that Murakami was notified by Livedoor executives of their plan during a meeting Nov. 8, 2004.

Murakami allegedly had MAC Asset Management Inc., the investment consulting firm then owned by himself and now run by MAC Asset Management Ltd. in Singapore, pay 9.95 billion yen for about 1.93 million NBS shares between Nov. 9, 2004, and Jan. 26, 2005.

MAC Asset allegedly made a profit of 3 billion yen by selling 5 million of its NBS shares after Livedoor announced Feb. 8, 2005, it had acquired a 35 percent stake in NBS.

In demanding the biggest-ever forfeit for insider trading, the prosecutors have argued that Murakami lacked “even the minimum of ethics” and bore a grave responsibility for committing the crimes. They also demanded that MAC Asset Management Inc. pay a 300 million yen fine for its involvement in the alleged wrongdoing.

Murakami’s defense has argued that MAC Asset’s purchase of the NBS shares had nothing to do with the information obtained from Livedoor, because Murakami himself was interested in the radio broadcaster.

Prior to his arrest, Murakami admitted to reporters that he knew Livedoor would acquire the NBS shares before the transaction was made public and acknowledged his actions could be construed as insider trading.

However, he reversed himself when the trial began in November, claiming he knew Livedoor was eager to obtain the NBS stake but did not think the plan was feasible. He repeatedly told the court during the trial he made misleading statements to the media to put the blame on himself to prevent other MAC Asset employees from being arrested.

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