• Kyodo

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The Toyama District Court on Thursday sentenced a former chief of the Toyama Prefectural Police to a one-year prison term, suspended for four years, for covering up illegal drug use by an informant in 1995.

Masafumi Ueda, 54, received a suspended prison term for releasing Shinichi Tsuchida on May 18, 1995, the day after he was arrested on suspicion of using stimulant drugs.

Tsuchida, 40, served as an informant for the police in a separate amphetamine racketeering case.

“The accused took advantage of his position as the top official of the police and committed the serious crime involving his subordinates,” said the presiding judge, Masakatsu Kamisawa. “His criminal responsibility is grave as the case caused the loss of confidence in the police.”

Kamisawa also found Minoru Takamatsu, 62, former chief of criminal investigations at the force, guilty of ending probes into Tsuchida’s alleged drug use and sentenced him to one year, suspended for four years.

Both Ueda and Takamatsu pleaded guilty to the charges in the first hearing of their case on Feb. 26. Prosecutors had sought one-year prison terms for each man.

During the trial, Ueda said he believed Tsuchida’s release was justifiable as it served the larger goal of rooting out illegal drug use.

According to the ruling, the pair conspired with six other Toyama senior police officers to release Tsuchida, falsely claiming he was ill.

After the ruling was handed down, Ueda told reporters that he received the judgment solemnly, and will not appeal it to a higher court.

“I want to offer my sincere apology to people in the prefecture and staffers at the prefectural government and the police for what I did,” he said.

According to the ruling, Takamatsu had proposed releasing Tsuchida because his arrest might hinder the investigation into the massive drug-racketeering case, for which the Toyama police hoped to win an award from the National Police Agency.

The police later won the NPA award in September 1995.

“There is no justification for releasing a suspect in a bid to win a national police award. The accused abandoned his duty as the highest-ranking police official,” Kamisawa said.

Commenting on the ruling, NPA chief Setsuo Tanaka said the court’s decision was made with considerable gravity and that he will remind all police officers that investigations should be conducted strictly in accordance with the law.

Ueda is the second prefectural police chief to be placed on trial for misconduct.

In May 2000, a former chief of the Kanagawa Prefectural Police was given a suspended 18-month prison term for covering up a drug case in 1996.

The coverup by the Toyama police was apparently exposed by a whistle-blower who sent a letter to the prefectural force in May last year.

By September, the coverup had become clear, and Ueda quit the Chubu Regional Police Bureau on Nov. 9.

Takamatsu, who had retired from the force, gave up his job as an adviser to an electric power company.

Once Thursday’s ruling is finalized, Ueda will forfeit his right to 38 million yen in retirement allowances, and Takamatsu will have to pay back the retirement pay that he has already received.

Ueda, Takamatsu and their six subordinates were indicted on Nov. 21. The charges against the six underlings, however, were dropped.

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