• Kyodo

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Two former Niigata Prefectural Police officers pleaded guilty Friday to erasing a number of police traffic violation records last year upon request.

At the first session of their trial before the Niigata District Court, Norio Osawa, 60, and Nozomu Sonehara, 50, owned up to charges of illegally producing public electronic records and using them in violation of the Penal Code.

The charges, which were introduced into law in 1987, carry a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to 1 million yen.

Between May and October, the two jointly plotted to erase four people’s records of traffic violations, including breaking the speed limit and driving the wrong way on a one-way street, according to the indictment.

Sonehara used a computer at the prefectural force’s traffic division to delete the four people’s violation records registered on the National Police Agency’s online information system, it said.

Osawa conspired separately with Akio Fujimaki, 39, a former secretary to House of Representatives member Katsuhito Shirakawa, to erase a traffic violation record of another secretary to Shirakawa, the indictment said.

Osawa had a colleague erase that record last July, it said.

Public prosecutors told the court that the second secretary said to Osawa that he would pay to have the record erased.

Fujimaki is being tried separately.

Police dismissed Osawa, then a superintendent and head of the prefectural force’s traffic squad, and Sonehara, an assistant inspector, after arresting them March 19.

Police began investigating the case after receiving an anonymous telephone call in February that Osawa had been dealing laxly with traffic violations.

Police sources said the two may have received bribes from the violators.

Sources from the prefectural force said they are often asked to erase traffic violation records by lawyers, lawmakers, local magnates, people in the media and others.

Niigata police have been under fire for their mishandling of a case involving the rescue of a girl who had been held captive for over nine years.