A former top bureaucrat at the health ministry and two others pleaded guilty Mar. 26 in their first trial hearing to bribery charges in connection with the construction of special subsidized nursing homes.

Nobuharu Okamitsu, 58, former vice minister of the Health and Welfare Ministry, and Shigeru Chatani, 39, another official at the health ministry, allegedly received bribes totaling over 70 million yen from Hiroshi Koyama, 52, former head of the Aya welfare business group, in return for aiding in the group’s construction of nursing homes in Saitama Prefecture. Chatani was on loan to the Saitama Prefectural Government when he accepted the money.

After the prosecutors read the indictment, each of the three, standing shoulder to shoulder before the Tokyo District Court bench, said they have no intention of disputing the charges they are being tried for. “I’d like to offer my deepest apology to the public, employees of the Ministry of Health and Welfare and people engaged in welfare activities,” said Okamitsu, who appeared a bit pale. “Even though I had maintained a longtime friendship with Koyama, I can’t deny the nature of the money as a bribe when I think of my position at the time.”

An official who accepts a bribe can face up to a maximum five-year prison term. In the opening statement, prosecutors said Okamitsu took 60 million yen in bribes from Koyama in July and August 1994 when he was chief of the secretariat for the health minister.

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