Lower House lawmaker Takanori Sakai pleaded not guilty Thursday to hiding political donations and defrauding the government.

Sakai is accused of hiding 168 million yen in donations and taking some 24 million yen in salaries paid to a nonexistent secretary.

Aki Shionoya, Sakai’s policy secretary, is accused of the same charges. She also claimed innocence during the opening session of their trial at the Tokyo District Court.

In statements read out in the courtroom, both Sakai, a 55-year-old former member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and Shionoya, 38, denied their involvement in making false entries in the lawmaker’s fund-management report. They said that matters concerning donations had been handled by others in charge of accounting at Sakai’s office.

According to prosecutors, his office received and did not declare 168 million yen in political donations from eight companies including Career Staff Ltd., now called Adecco Career Staff Ltd., and Nippon Manpower Co. between 1997 and 2001.

Failure to declare donations is a violation of the Political Funds Control Law.

Prosecutors charged that Sakai wielded his power as a lawmaker to benefit the companies and people contributing to his office. Moreover, they said he threatened to harm those who wanted to stop assisting him.

For example, Sakai spoke with people in the Social Insurance Agency in 1997 to negotiate a substantial reduction in the amount of unpaid health insurance fees owed by Career Staff, the prosecutors said.

“But when another company that was ran by the president of Career Staff halted part of its regular donations to Sakai, the lawmaker summoned the president and threatened that he could stop the company from continuing business,” they said in their opening statement.

Sakai and Shionoya also conspired to falsely register a 37-year-old man as Sakai’s policy secretary and pocketed the money paid from government coffers to cover the man’s salary, which amounted to 24 million yen between July 1996 and November 1999, the prosecutors said.

The defendants denied the accusation that they were trying to use the man’s name to defraud the government, saying that Sakai’s office had a real plan to hire the man as a secretary.

The prosecutors pointed out that when the man asked the lawmaker to stop using his name in late 1998, Sakai refused, saying such an action could make his case stand out and arouse suspicion.

During the period, Sakai’s office gave the man 45 percent of the money it received from the state as a reward for his cooperation in the alleged scam. The man has paid back his share to the secretariat of the House of Representatives.

Sakai, who represents the Saga No. 1 constituency, was expelled from the LDP following his arrest on March 7. The Lower House adopted a resolution on March 25 urging him to resign from the Diet, but Sakai has refused. to comply and still retains his Lower House seat.

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