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The Wakayama District Court on Friday sentenced the husband of a woman accused in the 1998 curry-poisoning murders here to six years in prison for swindling insurance firms out of 160 million yen.

Presiding Judge Ikuo Ogawa handed the sentence to Kenji Hayashi, 55, who was found guilty on three counts of fraud by falsely claiming insurance payments for accidents he and his wife, Masumi, 39, allegedly suffered.

In giving a sentence less than the eight years sought by prosecutors, the judge said, “The fraud schemes were originally hatched by Masumi Hayashi.”

A former insurance saleswoman, Masumi testified as a witness that she had masterminded the fraud.

During the trial, Kenji owned up to the fraud charges but denied playing an active role, claiming he was not familiar with the details of insurance contracts.

Masumi is being tried separately on charges of murder and attempted murder for mixing arsenic in curry that was served at a community summer festival on July 25, 1998, killing four people and leaving 63 others ill.

She also stands accused of separate attempted murder charges, in which she allegedly tried to kill acquaintances, as well as her husband, with arsenic in a bid to collect on insurance policies.

Prosecutors alleged that her crimes started with insurance fraud and later escalated into mass murder.

According to the court, the couple filed false reports with insurance companies in May 1993 about bone fractures suffered by Kenji, burns his wife sustained in February 1996, and his alleged loss of the use of his arms and legs around November 1997.

The two received some 20 million yen in insurance money for the bone fractures after falsely claiming Kenji was injured in a motorcycle accident, and 4.6 million yen for Masumi’s burns, which they claimed happened when she fell from a bicycle onto a barbecue grill.

The couple got another 138 million yen from an insurance firm after falsely claiming Kenji had permanently lost the use of his limbs.

Prosecutors called his crimes vicious because he tried to live off illicitly obtained insurance money.

His counsel claimed the fraud was not meticulously premeditated.

The lawyers also implicated a doctor who allegedly faked a medical certificate and acquaintances who gave false statements about Kenji’s injuries.

Mentality pondered

WAKAYAMA (Kyodo) Kenji Hayashi — husband of Masumi Hayashi, the defendant in the 1998 Wakayama curry-poisoning murders — said in a letter to Kyodo News that “what people think is hard to guess.”

Kenji, 55, who was given a six-year prison term for conspiring with his wife to swindle insurance companies out of 160 million yen, made the statement in a two-page letter he sent last month to a Kyodo reporter.

Masumi, 39, a former insurance saleswoman, is being tried separately on charges of murder and attempted murder. She stands accused of mixing arsenic in curry that was served at a community summer festival July 25, 1998, killing four people and leaving 63 others ill.

She is also charged with attempting to murder her husband in 1997 by putting arsenic into his drink, and of trying to kill others by the same method to collect on insurance policies. Before that, her husband had shown symptoms of arsenic poisoning in 1988 and 1995.

In the letter, Kenji did not specify whose thinking he had difficulty understanding. He quoted the phrase used by Ishida Mitsunari, a 16th-century warlord and key aide to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who unified Japan around 1590.

After Hideyoshi’s death, Ishida fought with Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, in the 1600 Battle of Sekigahara, but lost the campaign after many of his allies defected to his opponent’s side.

In the letter, Kenji did not touch directly upon the poisoning cases allegedly committed by his wife, but asked, “Isn’t it true that people can learn nothing when they have a fixed idea that this person is evil or outrageous?”

During the trial, Kenji, sobbing, said he always thinks about his wife and children while he is at the detention house. He also said he believes Masumi is innocent of the curry poisonings and ruled out the possibility that she had plotted his murder.

A source at the prosecutor’s office in Wakayama said Kenji has been “driven into a corner and assumed a defiant attitude.”

“He’d never reveal his true feelings now,” the source said.

The Hayashis were arrested in October 1998 on suspicion of insurance fraud. Masumi was later indicted in the poisoning case.

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