A former Foreign Ministry official and his subordinate received suspended prison terms Tuesday for defrauding the government of 21.5 million yen by padding bills for limousine rentals in connection with the Group of Eight summit in Okinawa in 2000.

Their coconspirators in the limo firm also received suspended sentences.

The Tokyo District Court found Hiromu Kobayashi, 46, former assistant director in the office of the deputy director general for general affairs at the Economic Affairs Bureau, and his subordinate, Tsutomu Okuma, 39, guilty of swindling the public funds in cooperation with officials of Tokyo-based Hinomaru Limousine. Kobayashi’s 30-month sentence was suspended for five years, and Okuma’s 16-month term for four years.

Seiji Kobayashi, 60, Hinomaru Limousine’s former managing director, received a 16-month term, suspended for four years, and Yuji Takizawa, 52, former head of the firm’s Akasaka branch, a 10-month term, suspended for three years, for their roles in the scam.

In handing down the suspended sentences, presiding Judge Koji Inaba said, “The incident eroded public confidence not only in the Foreign Ministry but also in the fairness of its administration. Such a crime should be strongly condemned.”

The scam was among a spate of monetary scandals involving the ministry that broke early last year. The affairs shed light on the extensive efforts by ministry officials to raise secret funds to be used for a variety of purposes, including their own wining and dining and late-night taxi fares.

In an earlier trial, Hiromu Kobayashi testified that such expenses included mah-jongg tables and karaoke sets used at the ministry’s overseas missions.

The two ministry officials had worked under former logistics chief Katsutoshi Matsuo, who was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison in March for bilking the state out of 500 million yen. Matsuo swindled the state by padding hotel bills in connection with 14 overseas trips by prime ministers between 1996 and 1999.

Akio Asakawa, a former colleague of Matsuo’s, was sentenced to two years last month for defrauding the state out of 422 million yen by padding hotel bills associated with the 1995 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum meeting.

The court said Hiromu Kobayashi’s attitude, nurtured during his stint at the ministry, was to raise as much secret funds as possible for his bosses and colleagues. When he realized the public was unaware of such funds misuse, he eventually began using the money for his personal expenses, it said.

The two bureaucrats were fired after their arrest last July.

Prosecutors demanded three years in prison for Hiromu Kobayashi, 1 1/2 years for Okuma and Seiji Kobayashi, and one year for Takizawa. All four defendants owned up to their charges during the trial.

More than 11 million yen of the total amount, mainly in the form of taxi vouchers, was channeled to the two bureaucrats and more than 1.5 million yen was used by officials of the limousine company, according to the court.

The rest of the money was the legitimate cost of the limo services, but the court held the defendants responsible for fraud based on the entire amount, because the funds were obtained in a fraudulent manner.

By the time of his arrest, Hiromu Kobayashi had spent 3.8 million yen and Okuma 1.4 million yen for their personal expenses, the court said.

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