The Tokyo High Court on Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling in which former Construction Minister Kishiro Nakamura was handed an 18-month prison term and fined 10 million yen for accepting a bribe of the same amount from a construction company.
Nakamura, 52, is now an independent lawmaker, having left the Liberal Democratic Party after the scandal broke in 1994. Out on bail, he has refused to give up his Diet seat even after being found guilty.
The Tokyo District Court concluded in October 1997 that he accepted a bribe from Kajima Corp. in return for blocking a government bid-rigging probe.
The high court also upheld a suspended 18-month prison term handed to Kajima’s former vice president, 75-year-old Shinji Kiyoyama, for paying the bribe.
Presiding Judge Shogo Takahashi said that in the court’s view, Nakamura’s 18-month prison term is not severe, given how he betrayed public confidence in the government.
“It is very regrettable that Nakamura has repeatedly made unreasonable excuses and has yet to show signs of regret during the course of this trial,” he said.
Prosecutors had demanded a three-year prison term for Nakamura and a two-year sentence for Kiyoyama.
Nakamura displayed little reaction following the rejection of his appeal, merely staring at the judge as he read the ruling.
The defendants’ appeal to the high court was based on claims that the money exchanged had been a political donation and that their sentences were too severe.
Immediately after the ruling was issued, the defendants’ lawyers expressed their intention to take the case to the Supreme Court.
According to the lower court, Nakamura received 10 million yen from Kiyoyama in his office in January 1992. This was at a time when he headed a group of LDP lawmakers charged with revising the Antimonopoly Law.
Prior to the exchange, Kiyoyama had asked Nakamura to lobby the Fair Trade Commission into not pressing criminal charges against Kajima and other construction firms for alleged bid-rigging on public works contracts in Saitama Prefecture, it said.
Later that month, Nakamura repeatedly urged the chairman of the government watchdog to abandon anticipated criminal accusations against the contractors, it said.
Although the chairman refused Nakamura’s request, the FTC eventually dropped the case due to a lack of evidence, the lower court said.
Through Wednesday’s ruling, the high court reaffirmed that Nakamura had taken a bribe in exchange for exerting his influence, meaning he had pressured the committee through his clout as a high-ranking politician rather than through his administrative authority, as is usually the case in regular bribe cases.
Nakamura’s lawyers had claimed that the petitioning of administrative organs is part of a lawmaker’s regular political activities. The high court rebuffed this claim, however, saying Nakamura’s deeds were beyond mere the practice of petitioning and thus violated the Criminal Code.
Despite being arrested in 1994 and standing trial, Nakamura was re-elected to the Lower House from the No. 7 constituency of Ibaraki Prefecture as an independent in 1996. He was re-elected again last June, marking his ninth consecutive Diet term.
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