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Tokyo police on Wednesday arrested the former head of the Kyoto Racecourse, operated by the Japan Racing Association, on suspicion of accepting 1.6 million yen in bribes from the former president of a company that makes promotional cards.

Yoshio Suzuki, 57, was held on suspicion of violating the Japan Racing Association Law. Employees of JRA, a government-funded public corporation, are considered public servants and can receive prison sentences of up to three years for accepting bribes.

The Metropolitan Police Department also arrested 69-year-old Kazuo Chatani, the former president of Nihon Card Transfer, for allegedly bribing Suzuki in return for huge orders that the racetrack had placed with the firm for machines to print the cards.

Investigators have searched various locations in connection with the case, including Suzuki’s home, the sources said.

The cards allow visitors free access for one year to the racecourse, where admission usually costs 200 yen.

The cards can also be used to obtain free printouts of betting odds at racetracks and off-site betting offices nationwide.

Suzuki introduced the promotional cards in an effort to attract more visitors. The racetrack dished out 7,000 free cards to customers in 1998 and 1999, and 4,000 in 2000.

Chatani allegedly gave Suzuki the 1.6 million yen on three occasions in 2000, the sources said. Suzuki retired in September the same year.

Investigators suspect that Chatani gave more than 20 million yen to Suzuki since 1991 but are unable to take action on the remaining money because the statute of limitations has expired.

Suzuki admitted during an earlier interview with Kyodo News that Chatani had deposited the 1.6 million yen in his bank account.

He denied, however, that this constituted bribery, as the card project had already been planned and budgeted when he was appointed head of the track. Suzuki said it was impossible for him to provide any favors to Chatani in relation to the project.

He claimed the money was primarily used to cover the cost of a plane journey he had taken to Hokkaido for a meeting in which he tried to borrow some 24 million yen for Chatani’s business. Suzuki added that the money had also been used to purchase a gift in connection with this meeting.

Chatani cited his long-term ties with Suzuki as the reason for paying out the money, according to police.

JRA President Masayuki Takahashi said he was surprised at the arrest of a former official of the association, and said JRA will fully cooperate with the police investigation.

The bribery scandal comes as the racing industry suffers from declining sales amid the protracted economic slump.

The number of annual visitors to racetracks throughout Japan hit a peak of 14 million in 1996 but has since declined, falling to 9.7 million last year.

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