A former Defense Agency official on Thursday was given a four-year prison sentence and fined 8.38 million yen for conspiring with defense contractors in a scheme that cost the government 3.54 billion yen.

Kenichi Ueno, 63, a former deputy chief with the Central Procurement Office, stood accused of receiving 8.38 million yen in bribes from two NEC affiliates that shorted the government on refunds it owed.

In convicting Ueno of breach of trust and bribery, Presiding Judge Nobuyuki Kiguchi of the Tokyo District Court said Ueno’s actions were malicious and tarnished public trust in defense administration.

Prosecutors had sought a six-year prison term as well as about 8.38 million yen in fines.

Ueno filed an appeal with a higher court later in the day.

The case has been a catalyst for pressing the agency to be more transparent in its equipment procurement dealings, which in the past were basically kept secret, ostensibly out of defense and security concerns.

Of the 14 people indicted in the case, only Ueno had pleaded innocent. The others, including Ueno’s boss, Masuo Morodomi, 63, who headed the office, have been found guilty and given suspended prison terms.

Kiguchi deemed that Ueno’s motive was self-protection, saying those charged in the case feared they would be held responsible if the padded bills were discovered.

“Ueno, as the deputy chief in charge of the matter, played the most central role,” Kiguchi said.

Ueno has denied exerting undue influence or taking bribes and said earlier that he deeply regrets being charged with breach of trust for actions he thought were for the good of the state.

According to the court, Ueno conspired with Toyo Communication Equipment Co., an NEC Corp. affiliate, and Nico Electronics Co., an NEC subsidiary, to reduce the amount of refunds to be made by the two companies.

The firms had overcharged the agency for equipment from 1994 to 1995.

As a reward for his help, Ueno in 1994 received 3 million yen in cash from Toyo Communication, according to the court. He also took a bribe of about 5.38 million yen in the form of compensation for working as an adviser at an NEC affiliate after he retired in June the following year.

The judge said it was obvious that the cash he received as an adviser constituted a bribe, since he assumed the post right after helping out the affiliate.

The office was abolished and split into two sections — one for cost accounting and the other for contracts — in line with the restructuring of government ministries and agencies in January 2001. The Defense Agency now has a panel that includes outside auditors to check procurement contents once a month.