Upper House member Tatsuo Tomobe pleaded not guilty June 25 to charges of conspiring with his wife, son and political supporters to swindle depositors in a mutual aid society.

Also pleading not guilty at the Tokyo District Court in connection with the 9 billion yen scheme were Tomobe’s wife, Mikiko, 61, and their second son, Momoo, 29. Two other former executives from the Orange Kyosai Kumiai mutual fund, Noboru Masukawa, 63, and Matsunosuke Ishizaki, 62, are also standing trial.

Masukawa was the only defendant to plead guilty.

The 68-year-old Tomobe, dressed in a dark blue suit, repeatedly told the court, “I never thought of cheating, never.” He also repeated that he would pay back his depositors.

“I feel very sorry for causing trouble for people,” Tomobe said. “I will absolutely return the money.” The lawmaker, who left Shinshinto after the scandal surfaced, concluded his statement by saying, “To repay (the debts), I hope all of us will be released on bail as soon as possible.”

Prosecutors have charged the five defendants with conspiring to defraud investors of 665 million yen between June 1994 and last October. Orange Kyosai executives are suspected of collecting more than 9 billion yen from more than 2,000 people.

According to the prosecution’s opening statement, Tomobe established Orange Kyosai in 1988 to support the now-defunct Nenkin Party, which he had founded. The organization started selling Orange Super time deposits in 1992 at about 7 percent interest, much higher than regular bank rates.

The defendants promised high returns with a false claim that the deposits were invested overseas, prosecutors said. Investigators suspect that little of the money was actually invested, and a large amount was used to pay Tomobe’s debts from election campaigns and family expenditures, and for allegedly buying his way into the Diet in 1995.

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