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Nation’s youngest mayor acquitted of bribery in Gifu

Kyodo

The nation’s youngest mayor has been acquitted of bribery amid doubts about his accuser’s claims.

Hiroto Fujii, the 30-year-old mayor of Minokamo, Gifu Prefecture, was found not guilty Thursday by the Nagoya District Court of receiving bribes from a groundwater supply company to install a water-cleaning system in a public school.

Fujii was arrested in June and resumed his duties after he was released on bail in August. He has maintained his innocence throughout.

“There is a reasonable doubt about the testimony provided by the bribing side, which says an exchange of cash took place,” presiding Judge Hiromitsu Ukai said in the ruling.

The judge said the company is suspected of making false statements to authorities to avoid being indicted over a different case.

A different panel of judges at the same court found the company’s president, Masayoshi Nakabayashi, guilty of bribing the mayor and defrauding a bank of ¥61 million in loans. That ruling has been finalized.

Given the opposite judicial outcomes, prosecutors are likely to appeal Thursday’s ruling to a higher court. The prosecution had demanded that Fujii be sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay a ¥300,000 fine.

They argued that Fujii received ¥300,000 in bribes from Nakabayashi on two occasions in April 2013 in return for helping to get the water-cleaning system installed in the junior high school. He was still a municipal assembly member at the time.

Fujii went on to be elected mayor in June 2013. The equipment was installed that August.

The trial, which began in September, focused on the credibility of Nakabayashi’s statements implicating Fujii over the bribery. Fujii’s defense argued that no exchange of cash took place and Nakabayashi’s statements were untrustworthy.

“I was able to have the judge accept my arguments,” Fujii said after Thursday’s ruling. “I will redouble my efforts at city governance.”

Accepting bribes in advance of assuming public office is punishable by up to five years in prison.