A Russian affairs expert and his former Foreign Ministry colleague were indicted Tuesday on charges of using more than 33 million yen in funds earmarked for an international aid panel to pay for a trip to Israel.

The two men charged with breach of trust are Masaru Sato, 42, a Russian affairs specialist with strong ties to disgraced lawmaker Muneo Suzuki; and Akira Maejima, 37, a former assistant director of the Foreign Ministry’s Oceanian Division.

The pair were arrested May 14.

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi released a statement saying the ministry takes the indictments “seriously” and regrets that ministry employees have been indicted in a criminal case.

She added that both Sato and Maejima will be suspended from their posts, effective Wednesday, and that the ministry hopes the facts surrounding the case will be clarified promptly in the course of judicial proceedings.

Sato and Maejima allegedly colluded to use some 30 million yen from the Cooperation Committee to pay for 17 people, including diplomats and private-sector scholars, to attend an international academic conference at Tel Aviv University in April 2000.

Sato chose which delegates would attend the international conference, according to prosecutors.

Maejima, who at the time was the assistant of a section chief within a Foreign Ministry division tasked with overseeing the Cooperation Committee, then drafted bills to cover the participants’ travel expenses, they said.

Sato also arranged for the committee to pay for a friend’s visit to Japan in 2000, they said.

Moreover, Sato invited the head of an institute affiliated with Tel Aviv University and his wife to visit Japan under false pretenses.

The institute chief was due to host an international conference on Russian diplomacy in January 2000.

Ahead of the conference, Sato ordered Maejima to draft a bill to cover the travel expenses of the institute chief and his wife under the pretext of a preparatory meeting, and successfully drew some 3.3 million yen from the committee’s funds to pay for their trip.

In the wake of an agreement between Japan, Russia and other former Soviet republics, the committee was established in 1993 as a tool through which Tokyo could provide those countries with economic aid.

Nations other than Russia and Belarus later became eligible to receive official development assistance under a different aid framework.

The Cooperation Committee funded the construction of the House of Friendship — known popularly as “Muneo House” — on Kunashiri Island. Suzuki’s secretary has been arrested and indicted in connection with the project.

Suzuki left the Liberal Democratic Party in March after allegations surfaced that he had manipulated the bidding process for two Japan-funded projects on Kunashiri, which is one of a group of Russian-held islands claimed by Japan.

Suzuki now sits as an independent lawmaker in the Lower House.

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