Just prior to his arrest in 1989 and amid mounting public criticism of his alleged bribe-paying, Recruit Co. founder Hiromasa Ezoe thought he’d “rather die” than be detained, according to sources close to him.

By that time, Ezoe had almost single-handedly created a massive business empire. It began when he established an advertising agency in 1960. Several of his publications, including housing and employment magazines, became immediate hits. He was further touted as having the Midas touch when it came to business deals.

Ezoe’s giveaways of Recruit Cosmos shares in exchange for favors came during the asset-inflated bubble economy years and a period of robust economic growth. At the time, it seemed as though the entire country was looking to make a fast buck.

The scandal, which exposed the cozy ties between political, bureaucratic and business circles, effectively ended his days as a high-flying entrepreneur.

However, after his arrest and indictment he decided to go on living “for the sake of his children” and to see how the courts ruled on the case. He pleaded not guilty.

Nevertheless, those close to him say that the 13-plus-year court battle tired him out. As the trial wore on, he was quoted as saying he never wanted to go behind bars again. He spent about four months in detention after his arrest.

When he was released on bail, he was diagnosed as suffering from depression due to his confinement, and aides watched him closely to prevent him from committing suicide.

In 1992, he sold his stake in Recruit to supermarket operator Daiei Inc. for some 45 billion yen. As of the end of last year he stepped down as special adviser and no longer has any strong links to the firm he founded.

He currently patronizes fledgling opera singers, saying this is now his life’s work.

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