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Two former senior officials of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Nagasaki prefectural chapter received suspended prison sentences Friday after being found guilty of illegally demanding political donations from construction firms for last year’s gubernatorial election.

The Nagasaki District Court sentenced Goro Asada, 65, to 30 months in prison with labor, suspended for five years, and Jitsuo Yasuda, 65, to two years imprisonment, suspended for five years. In granting the leniency, the court said the pair weren’t the first to engage in such acts.

Prosecutors had asked for 30 months imprisonment with labor for Asada, who was secretary general of the chapter, and 30 months in prison for Yasuda, who headed the chapter’s secretariat.

Asada and Yasuda pleaded guilty on the opening day of their trial in March.

According to the court, Asada and Yasuda asked the Nagasaki branch of an association of construction firms in November and December 2001 to contribute 50 million yen toward the election, which was held in February 2002.

The two also asked for donations for the election campaign from eight construction firms that had public works contracts with the Nagasaki Prefectural Government, it said.

Presiding Judge Keizo Yamamoto slammed the actions of the defendants, saying the methods they used to collect funds “were high-handed and undisguised, and bring to mind the contribution system seen among organized crime syndicates and the forcible borrowing of money (by the Edo shogunate from rich merchants and farmers) during feudal times.”

He added that they spawned serious doubts that the influence exerted by the prefectural party chapter might be threatening the fairness of elections and warping government administration itself.

At the same time, however, the judge said the court decided to suspend the sentences because the practice had been going on before the two defendants assumed their posts, and they had only followed the actions of their predecessors. The pair regret their actions and have stepped down from their posts, Yamamoto added.

The defendants also falsified a political funds report for 2001, according to the court.

Asada, a former member of the prefectural assembly, was also found guilty of bribe-taking by demanding money from Shimizu Corp., one of the nation’s biggest construction firms, in August 2001 in return for favorable treatment in contracting for a dam construction project.

Speaking at a news conference after the ruling, a red-eyed Asada claimed he did not have the courage to stop a practice that the secretaries general before him had continued.