High court finds Suzuki took bribes, rejects appeal

by Reiji Yoshida

The Tokyo High Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal by House of Representatives lawmaker Muneo Suzuki against the two-year prison term and ¥11 million fine he received in 2004 for accepting bribes from two Hokkaido-based companies.

Suzuki was convicted of accepting ¥6 million in bribes from construction company Shimada Kensetsu between 1997 and 1998 while he was head of the Hokkaido Development Agency, and ¥5 million in 1998 from timber firm Yamarin when he was deputy chief Cabinet secretary.

Presiding Judge Osamu Ikeda upheld the 2004 district court ruling, saying the testimony adopted by the lower court was valid and consistently backed up by other circumstantial evidence, including handwritten memos and data left in computers.

Suzuki had argued the testimony was untrustworthy, arguing that witnesses were pressured by prosecutors to cater to a trial scenario prepared in advance by the investigators.

Suzuki said witnesses provided new testimony contradicting their earlier claims made during high court sessions. The high court ignored most of them in its ruling.

The 2004 ruling was largely based on testimony by workers of the two firms, who admitted paying bribes to Suzuki.

“Muneo Suzuki is not a person who accepts bribes. Prosecutors have made up the whole story,” Suzuki told reporters after the ruling. “The government and judiciary are now working together as one (in pursuing guilt).”

Suzuki, who represents Hokkaido and now heads the small New Party Daichi, once wielded considerable influence as a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker, especially over the Foreign Ministry on issues related to the territorial row over the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, as well as over the prefecture’s local construction industry.

According to the high court, Shimada Kensetsu, based in Abashiri, Hokkaido, approached Suzuki in October 1997 when he was head of the Hokkaido Development Agency and asked for his help in winning public works orders.

In return, Suzuki received ¥6 million from the company, the court said.

In August 1998, Yamarin, based in Obihiro, Hokkaido, asked Suzuki, who was then deputy chief Cabinet secretary, to ask the Forestry Agency to give it preferential treatment. At the time, the agency had slapped a seven-month participatory ban on the timber company for illegal logging in national forests.

Yamarin paid Suzuki ¥5 million for his help, according to the court.

Suzuki immediately filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. He continues to serve as a Diet member, out on bail. If his sentence is finalized, he will be stripped of his lawmaker status.