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Lawmaker Muneo Suzuki in 1998 received around 5 million yen from executives of a Hokkaido logging firm who were apparently enlisting his help after the company was caught cutting down trees in a national forest without permission, sources close to the case said Monday.

Suzuki, 54, received the money directly from Yamarin in August 1998 shortly after he became deputy chief Cabinet secretary.

Suzuki said he returned the 5 million yen later the same year.

Suzuki was apparently one of several officials Yamarin enlisted to urge the agency to be lenient in punishment doled out to individual executives, the sources said.

The Forestry Agency took punitive action against Yamarin itself in June 1998, barring it from bidding for public works projects for seven months.

In addition, two former Yamarin officials were found guilty of cutting down trees in a national forest without permission, but it is unclear what kind of action was taken against them.

According to the sources, Yamarin executives visited Suzuki at his office on Aug. 4, 1998, shortly after taking up the post of deputy chief Cabinet secretary in late July.

The executives directly handed around 5 million yen to Suzuki, they said.

Separately, Yamarin had donated about 6 million yen to Suzuki’s fund-managing group in 1997 under the name of Yamarin group companies and their executives, and the amount was listed in the fund-managing group’s financial records. The 5 million yen in 1998 was treated in a similar manner.

But following a newspaper article published in December 1998 that criticized Suzuki’s accepting the 1997 donations from the scandal-hit Yamarin, he claimed to have returned the full amount to Yamarin on Dec. 30, 1998.

During a House of Representatives Budget Committee session in February 1999, Suzuki said he had also returned the 1998 donations from Yamarin.

Suzuki quit the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in March under pressure following a series of scandals, including his meddling in Foreign Ministry affairs and allegedly assaulting one of its officials.

He currently is an independent in the Lower House but has come under mounting pressure to quit the Diet following further damaging revelations.

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