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A former Foreign Ministry official on Wednesday was sentenced to two years in prison for defrauding the government of 422 million yen.

Akio Asakawa, 57, was convicted by the Tokyo District Court of padding bills to the tune of around 40 million yen for the 1995 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Osaka and a preparatory meeting in Tokyo the previous month.

During his trial, Asakawa, a former assistant director at the ministry’s European Affairs Bureau, admitted to the charge and apologized to the public, saying he wants to spend the rest of his life repenting for the crime.

Asakawa’s lawyers claimed that the legitimate cost of the services provided by the Hotel New Otani Osaka and the Hotel New Otani Tokyo came to 387.28 million yen.

Including the fraudulent additions, the hotel bills submitted to the ministry at Asakawa’s behest came to 422 million yen.

The court ruled, however, that the defendant is responsible for the entire 422 million yen as it was claimed on a fraudulent basis.

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said in a statement that the ruling is a serious matter and pledged to do her utmost to prevent any further scandals involving ministry officials.

At the same trial, Shozo Saito, 52, former director of sales at the Hotel New Otani Tokyo, received a suspended two-year prison term.

He collaborated with Asakawa by charging, on Asakawa’s advice, 109 million yen in padded hotel bills to the ministry. The charges involved the Tokyo meeting.

Presiding Judge Shogo Kawaguchi said that Asakawa deserves strong criticism for abusing his position and authority as a public servant in charge of handling taxpayers’ funds.

“Asakawa’s prison term cannot be suspended, considering the amount of money he swindled,” the judge said. “The crime betrayed public confidence in public servants and it devastated public trust in the government’s administrative efforts.”

Lawyers for Asakawa asked for clemency and said he will meet ministry demands by returning some 30 million yen, including 17 million yen used by him personally.

Appearing before the court in a dark gray suit, Asakawa, who was fired by the ministry in September, nodded several times when the judge handed down his sentence. Prosecutors had demanded a four-year prison term for Asakawa.

Asakawa joined the ministry in 1963 and was engaged in logistics work related to international conferences, organizing hotel accommodation and limousine services.

According to the ruling, Asakawa had Saito, who handled New Otani’s business links with the ministry, charge 109.64 million yen in padded hotel bills for the 1995 APEC preparatory meeting in Tokyo.

As for the APEC meeting in Osaka, Asakawa arranged for an employee of the New Otani Hotel Osaka to charge 312.51 million yen in hotel bills, the ruling said.

In both cases, the surplus cash was pooled at the Hotel New Otani. Asakawa spent 25.5 million yen for personal use between 1995 and 2001, sometimes using the hotel’s services free of charge, the court said.

Asakawa has already paid back some 25 million yen of the 30 million yen he was ordered to repay. He told the court that he will pay the remainder when his bail is returned. Asakawa’s case is one of a series of fraud and embezzlement scandals involving senior Foreign Ministry officials.

In March, Asakawa’s former colleague, Katsutoshi Matsuo, was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison for bilking the state out of some 500 million yen. He had padded expenses for 14 trips by prime ministers between 1996 and 1999.

Last month, prosecutors demanded a three-year prison term for Hiromu Kobayashi, another assistant director at the Foreign Ministry, for defrauding the state of 21.5 million yen. His subordinate was given 1 1/2 years in prison.

The fraud was linked to the provision of limousine services for the 2000 Group of Eight summit in Okinawa.

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