A former top bureaucrat at the Health and Welfare Ministry was sentenced to two years in prison Wednesday and fined 63.69 million yen for bribery in connection with the construction of special subsidized nursing homes.
Nobuharu Okamitsu, 59, became the first former vice minister since the end of World War II to receive a prison term without suspension for bribery.
The Tokyo District Court also handed down a 1 1/2-year prison term, suspended for four years, and imposed fines of 11.22 million yen on Shigeharu Chatani, 41, another ex-Health Ministry official who received bribes from Hiroshi Koyama, former owner of the Aya welfare business group, which ran the nursing homes.
Koyama was sentenced to 1 1/2 years in prison and fined 2 million yen.
The three, lined up shoulder to shoulder before the bench, stood motionless and looked straight ahead as Judge Toshikazu Obuchi handed down the sentence. “The crime they committed not only damaged public trust in public servants but also shocked those engaged in welfare activities,” Judge Obuchi said.
The court said in its ruling that although Okamitsu has made remarkable contributions to the country’s welfare policies, his involvement in this bribery case should be condemned and he thus deserves a prison term without suspension.
The ruling comes at a time when the bureaucracy is under severe public scrutiny after a spate of corruption scandals involving elite Finance Ministry and Bank of Japan officials broke earlier this year. The case has also shed light on the opaqueness of the decision-making process for awarding public subsidies to welfare-related businesses, in which the discretion of individual bureaucrats is said to hold sway.
Koyama immediately filed an appeal. Okamitsu is also expected to appeal the case to a higher court. In their April 22 trial hearing, prosecutors had demanded a 3 1/2-year term and a 63 million yen fine for Okamitsu, two years and 11.22 million yen for Chatani, and 2 1/2 years and 2 million yen for Koyama.
According to the court, Okamitsu and Chatani received bribes totaling more than 70 million yen from Koyama in return for helping his business group construct nursing homes in Saitama Prefecture.
Okamitsu took 60 million yen in bribes from Koyama between June 1992 and July 1995, the court said, adding that he later paid back 20 million yen to the business owner. Over the period, he served at key ministry posts, including chief of the secretariat for the health minister.
He received the bribes in return for using his influence to help Koyama obtain 4.6 billion yen in government subsidies to construct nursing homes in Saitama Prefecture as well as other social welfare corporations, the court said.
Okamitsu also enjoyed free use of two cars, worth 5.69 million yen, provided by a firm owned by Koyama, between June 1992 and March 1996.
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