Heo Young Joong, who jumped bail during his 1997 trial for involvement in the collapse of trading house Itoman Corp., pleaded guilty Wednesday to having his common-law wife and a building owner help him evade capture.

“(The facts are) as it is in the indictment,” the 53-year-old real estate company head told the Tokyo District Court as his bail-jumping trial opened.

But Heo’s defense counsel pleaded not guilty, claiming that it is natural for a fugitive to seek help and thus that act does not constitute a crime.

Bulletproof glass was placed between the gallery and the defendant for security reasons.

According to the court, the glass is placed in the courtroom in rare cases when underworld syndicates are involved. Heo is believed to have close ties with the Yamaguchi-gumi.

According to prosecutors, Heo instructed his common-law wife, Misako Kin, to make reservations for him at a Tokyo hotel last Oct. 30 while he was on the run.

In June 1999, he instructed building owner Keiichi Hayashida to lend him credit so he could use money without using his name, they said.

Heo was taken into custody in November at a Tokyo hotel about two years and three months after he skipped bail during a trip to South Korea.

He was allowed to visit South Korea in September 1997 to attend a memorial service for a relative of Kin while on trial on charges of breach of trust in connection with dubious art transactions between his real estate company and Itoman.

He vanished in South Korea in mid-October that year.

The dubious deals led to Itoman’s collapse and absorption in 1993 by Sumikin Bussan Kaisha Ltd., a subsidiary of Sumitomo Metal Industries Ltd., ending Itoman’s 110-year corporate history.