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Prosecutors on Thursday sought a 3 1/2-year prison term for former construction minister Eiichi Nakao, claiming he took 60 million yen in bribes from Wakachiku Construction Co. while he was a Cabinet member in 1996.

Prosecutors also demanded a fine of 60 million yen. Nakao is accused of receiving 50 million yen in cash and a check for 10 million yen from Hiroshi Ishibashi, who was chairman of Wakachiku Construction.

He allegedly received the bribes in various places, including his official limousine and the ministerial office, on four occasions between June and October 1996, the prosecutors said.

Nakao, 72, pleaded guilty in his first trial session before the Tokyo District Court in December 2000.

Ishibashi was not prosecuted because the three-year statute of limitations for offering bribes had run out.

Nakao allegedly received the money for promising to favor Wakachiku Construction in bidding for public works projects and for sending influential retired bureaucrats to take jobs in the Tokyo company, a practice known as “amakudari” (descent from heaven).

Before the Lower House election in October 1996, Nakao asked the company for money for his election campaign.

After retaining his Diet seat, Nakao told Wakachiku Construction that he would work to repay what the company had done for him.

During his trial, Nakao said he was used by Heo Young Joong, who was implicated in the Itoman Corp. fraud scandal, in a scheme to defraud Ishibashi Sangyo, an oil material sales company, of 18 billion yen worth of promissory notes. Ishibashi Sangyo is the parent company of Wakachiku Construction.

Heo, a 55-year-old Osaka real estate developer currently on trial on charges of conspiring to damage the now-defunct trading house Itoman, is believed to have introduced Nakao to executives of Wakachiku Construction in May 1996.

Nakao’s lawyers said in the trial that Heo used Nakao in the scheme to win the trust of Ishibashi Sangyo, and Nakao did not recognize the money he received from Wakachiku Construction constituted a bribe because Heo led Nakao to believe the money was for his election campaign.

Nakao became construction minister in January 1996 in the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.

Nakao, who was first elected to the Diet in 1967, also previously served as minister of international trade and industry.

He was arrested on June 30, 2000, after failing to be re-elected to the House of Representatives in the election five days earlier from a single-seat constituency in Yamanashi Prefecture, and was freed on 50 million yen bail on Aug. 11, 2000.

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