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Upper House member Tatsuo Tomobe, 72, faces 10 years in prison, the heaviest punishment ever imposed on a lawmaker, as the Supreme Court has dismissed his appeal in a fraud case involving the Orange mutual aid society, judicial sources said Tuesday.

The top court also rejected an appeal by Tomobe’s wife, Mikiko, 65, former chairwoman of the the mutual aid society, also convicted in the same case, the sources said.

The Tokyo High Court ruled Dec. 20 that Tomobe defrauded 35 people of a total of 660 million yen in a conspiracy with his wife and four other people in connection with management of the society from 1994 to 1996.

Tomobe, elected in 1995, will lose his Upper House seat when his conviction is finalized.

He has been criticized for receiving 1.4 million yen every month, as well as bonuses and other payments, even following his arrest in January 1997 and subsequent conviction by both the Tokyo District and Tokyo High courts. He has been in detention for more than four years.

Tomobe has refused to give up his Diet seat, saying that quitting would be tantamount to admitting his guilt.

Tomobe’s lawyers insisted on his innocence, but presiding Justice Hideo Chikusa dismissed the appeal, saying it had no reasonable ground as it had nothing to do with constitutional affairs, according to the judicial sources.

His conviction is to be finalized if the appellant either fails to challenge the decision in a three-day period from the day after the decision reaches the appellant or when the highest court rejects the challenge. There have been no instances where the top court’s decisions were overturned in substance.

According to the lower court rulings upheld by the top court, Tomobe and his wife organized an ostensibly mutual aid society named “Orange Kyosai Kumiai” with the aim of defrauding members of their deposit money. They canvassed members for subscriptions, promising that the society would pay 7.2 percent interest on three-year time deposits, and guarantee the capital. Besides the couple, two other former executives of the society were found guilty of swindling a total of 660 million yen out of 35 people between June 1994 and November 1996. Tomobe’s son Momoo is still on trial.

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