Yamarin, the Hokkaido logging firm that allegedly bribed arrested lawmaker Muneo Suzuki in 1998, escaped punishment for unauthorized logging in national forests in 1997 and paid some 6 million yen in political donations to him that same year, sources said Thursday.
A longtime supporter of Suzuki, Yamarin had only to submit a written explanation to the local district forest office regarding its unauthorized logging activities before the matter was settled, the sources said.
Tokyo prosecutors on Wednesday arrested Suzuki, 54, after his colleagues in the House of Representatives approved the action at a plenary session earlier in the day.
Prosecutors allege that Suzuki accepted a 5 million yen bribe from Yamarin on Aug. 4, 1998, in exchange for ensuring that the firm would receive favorable treatment from the Forestry Agency after the agency had punished it over another case of unauthorized logging in national forests.
In 1997, Yamarin donated about 6 million yen, under the names of its executives and affiliates, to Suzuki’s political fund management body.
Prosecutors are seeking to determine whether there is a link between the donations and the written explanation Yamarin submitted to the forest office, the sources said.
The forest office said, however, that it could not verify the existence of the explanation.
According to the sources, companies that win a bid to log trees in national forests are only allowed to cut down designated trees.
In spring 1997, however, Yamarin felled around 1,000 trees that were not designated.
Trees that block designated trees or prevent their transport can be cut down with the permission of foresters.
According to the sources, Yamarin said in its written explanation that it had cut down trees that were obstructing its work, adding that its staff had gone to the forester’s office to gain permission.
But the forester was busy at the time and the employees decided to fell the trees without consent.
The forest office accepted this explanation and let the matter rest, the sources said.
Yamarin had supported Suzuki since he was first elected to the Lower House in 1983, they said.
But when the eldest son of Yamarin Chairman Isao Yamada ran as a candidate for the Hokkaido Prefectural Assembly in 1991, rivaling a candidate with ties to Suzuki, their relationship cooled, the sources said.
Donations to Suzuki resumed a few years later, but the roughly 6 million yen contributed in 1997 and the alleged 5 million yen bribe in 1998 were markedly higher than the 1 million yen to 2 million yen that exchanged hands in the years before and after 1997 and 1998, they said.
Documents carted off
OBIHIRO, Hokkaido (Kyodo) Agents from the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office carted off 250 boxes of documents Thursday morning from a Hokkaido logging firm after a 13-hour search for evidence to support bribery charges against Diet member Muneo Suzuki.
Suzuki, a six-term House of Representatives member from Hokkaido, was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of accepting a 5 million yen bribe from the firm, Yamarin, in 1998 in return for lobbying the Forestry Agency on its behalf.
Prosecutors began the search of the firm’s head office and the nearby home of its chairman shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday and spent nearly 13 hours inside sifting through documents.
“All our documents have been taken away,” a senior Yamarin executive told reporters after the agents wound up the search at 2:50 a.m. Thursday.
More than 40 agents from the Tokyo District Prosecutor’s Office took part in the search.
Prosecutors also searched Suzuki’s suite in the Tokyo dormitory for Diet members, as well as his Diet office.
It is alleged Suzuki accepted the bribe from Yamarin on Aug. 4, 1998, in exchange for ensuring that the company would receive favorable treatment from the Forestry Agency.
Suzuki, 54, has denied the bribery accusations. He claimed he received 4 million yen as a political donation from Yamarin to congratulate him on his assumption of the post of deputy chief Cabinet secretary.
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