Bribed lawmaker Muneo Suzuki out on parole

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

Muneo Suzuki was paroled Tuesday after spending a year in prison for accepting ¥11 million in bribes and committing other offenses while serving as a Diet member.

Suzuki, a native of Hokkaido, heads a small political party called New Party Daichi. The 63-year old former Lower House member lost his Diet seat last September after his sentence was finalized.

While imprisoned in Tochigi Prefecture, Suzuki, who underwent surgery for esophagus cancer in October 2010, said he was placed in the hospital ward and spent his days nursing the elderly or helping those with physical impairments. Having served exactly one year in prison, Suzuki was all smiles when he was greeted by former colleagues, including indicted Democratic Party of Japan kingpin Ichiro Ozawa’s close aides, Kenko Matsuki and Tomohiro Ishikawa.

“As of 8 o’clock this morning, I breathed in the air of freedom for the first time in a year,” Suzuki said at a news conference. “For myself, this year of imprisonment was a time for self-improvement.”

Although Suzuki was expected to be jailed until April, the corrections committee approved the release after weighing various factors, including that he showed remorse and was not likely to repeat his crimes.

Without elaborating whether he will run for office again, Suzuki indicated he will cooperate with the ruling DPJ and vowed to do what he can to help the people in the March 11 disaster area.

Under the Public Office Election Law, Suzuki can’t run for public office for five years from the completion of his prison term, which officially ends in April.

“I am hoping that my past experiences will be of some use (for the DPJ) to be able to gain trust and understanding from the public,” Suzuki said. “I would like to take my time . . . to decide my next move, my next stage.”

Suzuki was found guilty of accepting ¥6 million in bribes from a construction company in Hokkaido while serving as chief of the Hokkaido Development Agency and ¥5 million from a timber firm when he was deputy chief Cabinet secretary, both positions held while he was in the Liberal Democratic Party.

He maintained his innocence in court and on Tuesday vowed to clear his name.

“I want to do everything in my power to win a retrial. I want the truth to come out,” Suzuki said.