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Public prosecutors may question senior lawmaker Muneo Suzuki next week on allegations he received 5 million yen in bribes from a Hokkaido lumber firm when he was deputy chief Cabinet secretary in 1998, and seek his arrest, law enforcement sources said Friday.

The prosecutors are expected to ask the Diet for permission to arrest the scandal-tainted lawmaker after questioning him. Lawmakers have immunity from arrest when the legislature is in session, and Diet approval is thus required for an arrest.

Suzuki, 54, allegedly received the money Aug. 4, 1998, shortly after he became deputy chief Cabinet secretary in late July.

An executive of the company, Yamarin, which is one of Suzuki’s supporters, and others visited him at the deputy chief Cabinet secretary’s office at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, and handed over some 5 million yen in cash, they said.

The Forestry Agency punished Yamarin in June 1998 for cutting down trees in a national forest without permission, barring it from taking part in public works bidding for seven months.

Yamarin, based in Obihiro, Hokkaido, hoped the agency would still give it priority to purchase national land for logging on a contract basis, rather than through bids, despite its illegal conduct.

The executives, who were not named, asked Suzuki to use his influence to help them. The lawmaker is believed to have conveyed the request to officials related to the agency, the sources said.

Yamarin donated about 6 million yen to Suzuki’s fund-managing group in 1997 and the amount was listed in the group’s financial records. The 5 million yen in 1998 was treated in a similar fashion.

But following a newspaper article in December 1998 that criticized Suzuki’s receipt of donations from a firm that had logged illegally, he reportedly returned the full amount to Yamarin on Dec. 30.

However, a financial report contained an entry in 1998 showing that several Yamarin group companies made a donation of about 3 million yen, but the entry was later corrected and deleted, according to the sources.

Investigators believe through their questioning of Yamarin officials that the 5 million yen given to Suzuki was not a political donation but a bribe to have him work on the company’s behalf, the sources added. The three-year statute of limitations for charging Yamarin with paying bribes has already run out.

Three former Yamarin officials were found guilty in the Kushiro District Court in Hokkaido in July 2000 of illegally logging in the national forest.

Suzuki quit the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in March over a series of scandals, including meddling in Japan’s diplomatic affairs. He currently sits as an independent in the House of Representatives, but has come under mounting pressure to quit the Diet, especially after the arrest April 30 of his secretary in connection with alleged bid-rigging.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told a regular news conference he hopes any questioning of the lawmaker will not adversely affect Diet proceedings.

However, the top government spokesman said that while he was aware of media reports of Suzuki’s pending interrogation, he has heard nothing from Tokyo prosecutors.

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