OSAKA — The Osaka High Court on Monday nullified the 1996 election of a Diet member from the Liberal Democratic Party and barred him from running for office in the same constituency for five years, after his secretary was convicted of buying votes.

Minoru Noda, 61, who was first elected in 1990, is the second Diet member — and the first elected under proportional representation — to be found guilty by association under the revised Public Offices Election Law.

The law was revised in 1994 to bar lawmakers from elections in the same constituency for five years if relatives, secretaries or other key election campaigners are convicted of violating the election law.

Noda ran for a Lower House seat in October 1996 in the Wakayama No. 3 electoral district. Although he lost in the single-seat constituency race, Noda won the Lower House seat under the proportional representation system. However, Noda’s secretary, Shunei Naka, was convicted of vote-buying by the Wakayama District Court in April 1997 and the Osaka High Court upheld the verdict last August.

After the Supreme Court rejected Naka’s appeal last November, prosecutors asked the high court to nullify Noda’s election last December. According to the court rulings, Naka gave 1 million yen to a forestry worker in the Wakayama constituency, asking him to collect votes for Noda. Naka was sentenced to 1 1/2 years in prison, suspended for five years.

The main argument in the case against Noda focused on the definition of a lawmaker’s secretary. Presiding judge Masaaki Fukutomi said a secretary holds a certain amount of discretionary power and responsibility in a politician’s office.

Fukutomi ruled that Noda approved Naka’s title of secretary, which appeared on his business cards. Naka’s job — to gather support for Noda among local voters — was described as a secretary’s job in a business report from Noda’s office, he said.

Noda argued in court sessions that Naka was just one of his office workers, not a secretary, and therefore not relevant under the guilt-by-association law.

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