An elite farm ministry bureaucrat pleaded not guilty Tuesday to helping an agricultural cooperative in Kagawa Prefecture secure farm subsidies in exchange for entertainment worth 2.9 million yen.

Kinya Mizokami, 44, who is currently suspended from work, told the Tokyo District Court he deeply regrets that the Shikoku Okawa Agricultural Cooperative paid his bills, which was contrary to work ethics and social morals.

Mizokami said, however, that he did not view the payments as bribes but as personal favors by officials from the cooperative because he was not in a position to grant subsidies for the two projects the cooperative was involved in.

According to the indictment, Mizokami’s bills at expensive bars in Tokyo and Sapporo were paid for by the agricultural cooperative several times between 1997 and 1999 in return for helping the group win subsidies from the government on two occasions around 1996.

Footing the bureaucrat’s bills were Yoshinobu Hirose, 70, head of the Sangawa, Kagawa Prefecture-based cooperative, and Taishi Yamashita, 56, who headed the cooperative’s sales and development department, the indictment said.

Prosecutors claim the money was payment for assisting the cooperative to benefit from a government project to promote farm products. Hirose and Yamashita pleaded guilty Tuesday to their charges.

Mizokami, who met Hirose and Yamashita in the early 1980s, when he was assigned to the neighboring town of Nagao, was working in the administration section of the ministry’s Agricultural Production Bureau when he allegedly extended favors to the cooperative in around 1996, prosecutors said.

Mizokami has held posts in the ministry’s Agricultural Structure Improvement Bureau and other departments and was assigned to the Hokkaido Prefectural Government when the incident came to light, they said.