• Kyodo

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Police searched a semipublic joint venture in Fukuoka on Thursday on suspicion that it paid exorbitant prices for waterfront landscaping to benefit companies linked to a former local assembly member.

Investigators searched the headquarters of Port of Hakata Development Co., which promotes reclamation projects along the city of Fukuoka’s waterfront, and several other locations, including the home of Shinichi Shiki, 65, former president of the firm.

Police said some 50 places will be searched in the case, in which former Port of Hakata Development executives are suspected of committing serious breach of trust.

According to police, the firm purchased 600 zelkova trees and 10,000 tons of garden rocks for a combined 1 billion yen from 1995 to 2001 as part of a project to create an artificial island in Hakata harbor in Fukuoka.

The 460 billion yen project will create 400 hectares of land as the site of a new city. The firm said the trees and rocks were to be used to decorate the city.

But it was revealed last year that the project did not specifically call for the trees and rocks, and that the price paid was far higher than the market price, city officials said earlier.

Three companies owned by Toji Nishida, 51, a former Fukuoka city assembly member, had mediated the deal and made some 400 million yen in profits from it, according to the city government.

Nishida and Shiki, who was a former deputy mayor of the city, reportedly were close and attended the same high school and university.

On April 2, the city of Fukuoka filed a criminal complaint against Shiki and Takichi Oba, 64, former managing director of the venture company, claiming the two had caused 770 million yen in damages to the city.

The complaint was filed after a municipal investigative committee determined that the two had bought the trees and rocks merely to benefit Nishida.

Shiki, who became the company’s president in 1999, was ousted in January after the scandal broke.

Nishida, who was first elected to the city assembly in 1979 and served five terms, quit the chamber to run for the 1996 election for the House of Representatives. He failed to win a Diet seat in that poll as well as in the 2000 election.

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