OSAKA — Real-estate broker Heo Young Joong repeated his not guilty plea Tuesday before the Osaka High Court in the first hearing of his appeal against a district court ruling last year on a fraud case involving collapsed trading house Itoman Corp.

Heo, 55, an Osaka-based resident of South Korea, was a key figure in the firm’s collapse. He denies committing aggravated breach of trust by conspiring with Yoshihiko Kawamura, 77, a former president of Itoman, and Suemitsu Ito, 57, a former managing director of the firm, to cause Itoman to incur about 36 billion yen in losses in 1990.

On March 29, 2001, the Osaka District Court sentenced Heo to 7 1/2 years in prison and a fine of 500 million yen, making it one of Japan’s largest of business fraud cases since the war.

The prison term and fine were in line with prosecutors’ demands.

The district court also found Heo guilty of evading 3 billion yen in corporate tax in the fiscal year that ended in March 1990.

Itoman funds were used to buy paintings at sharply inflated prices from Heo’s companies and also to invest in golf-course development projects that he put forward but were never likely to materialize, the ruling said.

The district court took nearly 10 years to pass judgment because Heo jumped bail and disappeared for two years after he was allowed to visit South Korea in 1997 for a memorial service for a relative of his wife. He was recaptured in November 1999 at a Tokyo hotel.

The Osaka High Court on April 23 upheld lower court prison sentences for Kawamura and Ito, rejecting their appeals. In 1999, Ito was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the lower court, while Kawamura received a seven-year prison term. They have appealed to the Supreme Court.

Heo is also being tried in a separate case at the Tokyo District Court for allegedly swindling Ishibashi Sangyo, an oil materials sales company, out of a promissory note for about 18 billion yen that was entrusted to him in 1996. Prosecutors are demanding a prison term of eight years.

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