Prosecutors sought an arrest warrant Monday for lawmaker Muneo Suzuki for allegedly taking a 5 million yen bribe from a Hokkaido lumber firm in 1998.

The prosecutors sought the warrant from the Tokyo District Court, which then initiated procedures to obtain the Diet’s permission to arrest Suzuki.

Later in the day, the Lower House steering committee decided to hold a plenary session vote on the case on Wednesday afternoon.

According to a senior ruling coalition official, Suzuki has said he wants to attend a closed session of the steering committee on Tuesday to give his version of events.

Suzuki, 54, has denied taking bribes, claiming he received a 4 million yen political donation, prosecution sources said. He also reportedly said all the money was returned to the company, Yamarin, in December 1998.

He quit the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in March after being at the center of a series of scandals, mainly over his alleged meddling in Foreign Ministry affairs. He now sits as an independent lawmaker representing Hokkaido.

A group of prosecutors, including Public Prosecutor General Akio Harada; Tatsuo Kainaka, chief of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutor’s Office; and Kunitaro Saita, chief prosecutor of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office; met earlier Monday to approve Suzuki’s arrest, the sources said.

Commenting on the case, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters at his office: “It is very regrettable for a lawmaker to be in such a situation. I think the Diet will respond appropriately, based on procedures.”

According to investigations, Suzuki received 5 million yen from Hokkaido-based Yamarin in 1998 in exchange for using his influence as deputy chief Cabinet secretary to help the firm with administrative punishment it faced for illegal logging in national forests.

Prosecutors also plan to question Suzuki’s policy secretary, who allegedly accepted the cash from Yamarin on Suzuki’s instructions, according to the sources.

After being found guilty of felling trees in a national forest without permission, Yamarin was barred from bidding for public works projects for seven months by the Forestry Agency.

On Aug. 4, 1998, shortly after Suzuki became deputy chief Cabinet secretary in the administration of the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, the chairman and other executives of Yamarin visited Suzuki’s office at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence and asked him to try to obtain preferential treatment from the Forestry Agency with regard to discretionary contracts awarded at national forest public auctions.

The Yamarin executives then gave the money to Suzuki, via his aide, as a token of gratitude, the sources said. Suzuki then phoned a senior official of the Forestry Agency to press Yamarin’s request, they added.

The agency official reportedly refused to comply with Suzuki’s demand.

After prosecutors made their request for permission to arrest Suzuki, the Tokyo District Court submitted documents requesting his arrest to the Cabinet, in accordance with procedure in such cases.

After the Cabinet ministers gave the nod, the Cabinet submitted the request to the speaker of the House of Representatives in the afternoon.

The Lower House Steering Committee is now expected to receive an explanation from the Justice Ministry.

If Suzuki requests it, the committee will also hear an explanation from him and discuss the request. If the committee approves it, the request will be voted on by the Lower House in a plenary session.

The court will issue an arrest warrant once all the procedures are followed.

It is the 19th time since the end of the war that prosecutors have asked for Diet approval to arrest a lawmaker. Under Article 50 of the Constitution, lawmakers have immunity from arrest while the Diet is in session, making Diet approval essential.

In recent cases, the Diet took three days to approve the arrest of Lower House member Kishiro Nakamura in 1994, two days in 1995 for Lower House member Toshio Yamaguchi, and one day in 1997 for Upper House member Tatsuo Tomobe.

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