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Real estate developer Heo Young Joong, a known fixer with ties to politicians and the underworld, was sentenced Friday to seven years in prison for bilking a Tokyo-based petroleum goods seller out of about 18 billion yen in 1996.

The Tokyo District Court found Heo, 55, guilty of swindling Ishibashi Sangyo out of promissory notes with a face value of 17.9 billion yen after he pitched a false scheme to take over a construction firm.

In the same trial, Morikazu Tanaka, a 59-year-old former prosecutor, received a four-year prison for his role in the fraud, while two close aides to Heo were sentenced to suspended terms of 34 and 36 months in prison.

All of the accused maintained their innocence throughout the trial.

Heo, an Osaka-born South Korean national known for his ties with the mob and influential politicians, was sentenced last year to 7 1/2 years and fined 500 million yen by the Osaka District Court in March 2001 for committing aggregated breach of trust that caused 26 billion yen in losses to the now-defunct trading firm Itoman, and for tax evasion. He has appealed that case to a higher court.

In handing down Friday’s sentence in a courtroom where bulletproof glass had been installed between the gallery and the court, presiding Judge Manabu Yamazaki said Heo bears a grave responsibility for causing financial damage to Ishibashi Sangyo and damaging the firm’s social reputation.

The fraud was a premeditated and cunning crime “in which the defendants skillfully controlled the victims’ psychology and weakness,” Yamazaki said.

Pointing out that Heo masterminded the fraud while out on bail during the Itoman trial, the judge went on to say he suffers a “paralyzed moral consciousness.”

While Yamazaki was reading the sentence, Heo appeared to faint and the session was halted for 20 minutes.

During the Itoman trial, Heo disappeared in South Korea while out on bail in 1997. He was recaptured by police in Tokyo in November 1999.

He was also found guilty Friday of offenses relating to his time as a fugitive hiding out in Tokyo hotels.

Heo, while out on bail during the Itoman trial, became a major shareholder of Ishibashi Sangyo and used it as leverage to manipulate the firm, the court said, adding that through coercion and by demonstrating his ties with the mob and influential politicians, he tried to have Ishibashi spend and borrow money to serve his purposes.

Heo proposed to Ishibashi’s top management that it buy stocks in the midsize construction firm Arai-Gumi Ltd. in a takeover bid, and then swindled Ishibashi out of promissory notes with a total face value of 17.9 billion yen, underwritten by the firm between April and October 1996 to fund the purchase of the Arai-Gumi shares.

Tanaka was present during the negotiations regarding the stock purchase and was involved in drawing up contract documents. Heo’s close aides, Hisanori Tanaka, 48, and Minoru Ozaki, 55, played minor roles in the fraud, the court found.

The court also found that Heo had Ishibashi Sangyo put up 8.5 billion yen, part of which was allegedly used in 1996 by its affiliate, Wakachiku Construction Co., to bribe then Construction Minister Eiichi Nakao at Heo’s behest.

Last month, prosecutors demanded a 3 1/2-year prison term for Nakao for taking 60 million yen in bribes from Wakachiku.

During Nakao’s trial, a brother-in-law of Hiroshi Ishibashi, former president of Ishibashi Sangyo, testified that Heo also handed money to two other Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers: heavyweight Shizuka Kamei and the late Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita.

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