Two immigration officials pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of disposing of and falsifying official documents to cover up the escape of a Chinese man arrested on suspicion of staying in Japan illegally.

Atsuyoshi Inagawa, 55, a former section head of the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau, and Ichiro Kubo, 47, a former group chief at the bureau, owned up to the charges during their first session before the Tokyo District Court.

In their opening statement, prosecutors said that after the man’s escape, Kubo proposed to Inagawa that they cover up the incident, and Inagawa agreed.

Kubo proposed the coverup out of fear they would fall behind in other investigations if they poured forces into a search for the man, whose name was not provided.

The man escaped from detention May 21, 1997, while being investigated at the Tokyo bureau for allegedly overstaying his visa.

According to the indictment, Inagawa and Kubo also falsified the number of detainees at the bureau, indicating it held fewer than it did.

The incident came to light when Osaka Prefectural Police arrested the Chinese man last June on suspicion of theft and contacted the immigration bureau.

Although the Justice Ministry conducted an in-house investigation, it failed to confirm the coverup and the case became public only after a newspaper reported it in February.

Prosecutors arrested Kubo and Inagawa on March 11 and they were fired later that day.

The Justice Ministry said earlier it has reprimanded or punished 14 others over the case, including Kunihiro Matsuo, a former vice minister, and Keiichi Tadaki, a former director of the secretariat, for not conducting a proper in-house investigation.

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