House of Representatives member Muneo Suzuki pleaded not guilty Monday to bribery, perjury and falsifying political funds reports.
The charges, constituting four counts, include Suzuki’s alleged receipt of 11 million yen in bribes from two Hokkaido firms in return for wielding his political influence in favor of the two companies in 1997 and 1998.
Suzuki, 54, now an independent lawmaker after leaving the Liberal Democratic Party in March, is charged with perjuring himself before a Lower House committee session in June and making false donation statements in 1998.
Appearing before the public for the first time since his June 19 arrest, Suzuki told the Tokyo District Court he is confident he can clear himself of all the charges brought against him.
“I don’t think I should be held criminally liable in any of these cases,” Suzuki said. He apologized to the public, however, for fueling distrust in politics by being charged with crimes.
Despite spending five months in Tokyo Detention House, Suzuki, a former head of the Hokkaido and Okinawa Development agencies and ex-deputy chief Cabinet secretary, was his usual loud, brusque self.
In the same trial, Suzuki’s former policy secretary, Jun Tada, 51, pleaded innocent to charges of conspiring with Suzuki in the two bribery cases and making false political donation statements.
But Tada acknowledged the validity of all the evidence presented by prosecutors to the court during Monday’s session, clearly drawing a line between him and his former boss, who rejected the evidence.
In their opening statement, prosecutors said Suzuki and Tada accepted 5 million yen in bribes from the president of the Hokkaido lumber company Yamarin at the deputy chief Cabinet secretary’s office in the Prime Minister’s Official Residence in August 1998.
In return, Suzuki agreed to use his influence to secure better treatment for the Obihiro-based firm after it was handed a seven-month administrative punishment for illegal logging in national forests, they said.
According to prosecutors, Suzuki pressured a senior Forestry Agency official to listen to Yamarin’s requests. The forestry official is scheduled to testify in the next session of the trial.
During Monday’s session, Suzuki said he only received 4 million yen as a legitimate political donation from Yamarin in the form of a “congratulation gift” for assuming the post of deputy chief Cabinet secretary.
The pair also received 6 million yen in bribes from the Hokkaido-based construction company Shimada Kensetsu while Suzuki was head of the Hokkaido Development Agency in 1997 and 1998, prosecutors alleged.
In return, Suzuki asked a high-ranking agency official to arrange for the construction company to win contracts, as was sought by the firm’s president, Mitsuo Shimada, prosecutors said.
Neither Yamarin nor Shimada Kensetsu officials have been indicted, because the statute of limitations governing their alleged misdeeds has expired.
The pair also falsified political donation statements by Suzuki’s support body in 1998 to allow Suzuki to use 36 million yen in the body’s funds for the construction of his own residence, the prosecutors said.
Suzuki lied under oath before the Diet in June three times, including when he claimed he did not oppose the dispatch of an international emergency aid group to Mozambique, they said.
Asked about Suzuki’s trial during a news conference in the morning, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said the government for its part cannot comment due to the separation of powers.
But Tsutomu Hata, special representative of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said it is undeniable that Suzuki pressured bureaucrats to win financial benefits for himself.
In a separate news conference, Tadayoshi Ichida, secretary general of the Japanese Communist Party, said Suzuki should resign as a lawmaker. Ichida also criticized the practice of private-sector firms making donations to politicians, saying corrupt lawmakers receive such money as a reward for public works-related favors.
Some 530 people waited outside the court in the morning to vie for 56 available gallery seats, according to the court.
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