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Tokyo police have turned over to prosecutors their defamation case against the president of Shinchosha Co. and seven others involved in a series of stories suggesting foul play in the deaths of four women, sources said Thursday.

The articles appeared in Focus, a weekly photo magazine, in 2000. They insinuated that a May 2000 car accident in Kumamoto Prefecture which killed four people had been caused by the head of a local medical corporation who was after insurance payouts.

The papers sent by the Metropolitan Police Department name Shinchosha President Takanobu Sato, former Focus Editor Igo Yamamoto and six others, including reporters who wrote and edited the articles.

Focus has since ceased publishing.

It is rare for police to take criminal action against the top executive of a major publisher in alleged defamation arising from published material.

“Since we do not think there were problems with the articles as a whole, we cannot understand which part exactly constitutes defamation,” a Shinchosha spokesman said. “We will wait for the decision of the public prosecutor’s office.”

In the accident, the wife of Minoru Hayashida, president of the medical corporation Hayashida Kai, in Kumamoto, and three nurses at a hospital operated by the company were killed when the car they were riding in plunged from a road along the coast in the town of Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture.

Focus reported that insurance policies of over 5 billion yen had been taken out on the four, and it ran a series of 12 articles from July the same year suggesting that Hayashida might have been involved in the accident with the aim of getting the insurance payouts.

Hayashida lodged a criminal complaint against Yamamoto and others for defamation in September 2000, and separately filed a damages suit against them.

In the civil suit, the Tokyo District Court upheld Hayashida’s defamation claim in April and ordered the publisher to pay about 13 million yen in compensation.

Kumamoto Prefectural Police have closed their investigation into the accident, ruling out foul play.

Shinchosha, founded in 1896, publishes novels, magazines and comic books.

Focus was launched in 1981 as the first of several weekly photo magazines that claimed phenomenal success in the 1980s.

Although its circulation hit 450,000 at its peak, its publication was suspended in 2001 due to declining sales and mounting debts. The magazine featured a number of articles exposing celebrities involved in scandals but was also the target of many lawsuits filed by people claiming they were defamed by its articles.

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