National

Yamaguchi fraud appeal rejected

But six months shaved off former minister's sentence

The Tokyo High Court on Tuesday trimmed six months off former Labor Minister Toshio Yamaguchi’s four-year prison sentence for fraud and embezzlement.

The Tokyo District Court had sentenced Yamaguchi to four years on March 16, 2000, in connection with loans he procured for highly indebted family-run businesses from Tokyo Kyowa Credit Association and Anzen Credit Bank, both of which failed in December 1994.

Yamaguchi, 62, was convicted of breach of trust, embezzlement, fraud and perjury in connection with the loans and other deals.

He persuaded the heads of Tokyo Kyowa and Anzen in 1994 to arrange some 2.7 billion yen in illegal loans for about 14 companies run by him and his relatives, the court said. The loans were provided through a firm operated by his older sister.

He also bilked the head of the board of directors of a private university in Kumamoto Prefecture out of some 170 million yen, saying it would be placed in trust to set up a university in the United States.

The court also ruled that Yamaguchi gave false testimony in a House of Representatives Budget Committee hearing on the scandal.

Presiding Judge Fumio Yasuhiro of the Tokyo High Court said the ex-lawmaker committed “acts motivated by greed” as he tried to procure funds by any means possible in order to repay his debts.

“Although (Yamaguchi) was a Diet lawmaker, the acts were self-centered and carry grave responsibility,” the judge continued.

He nevertheless reduced the lower court sentence by six months because out-of-court settlements have been reached with those he swindled since the initial ruling was handed down.

After the ruling was handed down, Yamaguchi said he would appeal to the Supreme Court.

“While a severe result cannot be helped, I would like to appeal, in search of one (good) conscience out of a thousand,” he told reporters.

He criticized the judicial system, alleging the courts and the prosecution were two sides of the same coin, and that it was difficult to win against them.

Yamaguchi, who served as labor minister from 1984 to 1985 in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, pleaded not guilty, claiming he was not involved in illegal loans and there was no breach of trust as no damage occurred to the two defunct credit unions.

Most of the firms run by the Yamaguchi family had incurred massive debts through reckless investment in stocks, golf course projects and a plan to build the university in the U.S., following the collapse of the bubble economy.

Yamaguchi won 10 straight terms in the Diet, having first been elected to the Lower House in 1967. He did not run for the Lower House election in October 1996 as he was in detention after being arrested the previous December.

Yamaguchi had told reporters at his first appeals trial session last June that he planned to run again for office, possibly in 2004. But some analysts have said he has fallen out of favor in his constituency in Saitama Prefecture.

“He no longer has any influence, even in his constituency,” said a city assembly member and former supporter of Yamaguchi. “It would be hard for him to win an election.”

Eleven other people, including former Tokyo Kyowa Chairman Harunori Takahashi and Yamaguchi’s former secretary, were charged in the case; eight have been convicted. Takahashi filed an appeal after being sentenced in October 1999 to 4 1/2 years in prison.