Japan Highway Public Corp. President Haruho Fujii has requested that an administrative hearing, scheduled for Friday, be opened to the public.

The hearing was scheduled after Fujii refused a request from new transport minister Nobutero Ishihara to resign.

Fujii’s lawyers said Tuesday their client is seeking a fair opportunity to state his case against Ishihara’s plan to dismiss Fujii over the semigovernmental entity’s balance sheet controversy.

The request was made in writing to the minister’s secretariat by two attorneys who will represent Fujii at the hearing.

The two lawyers, Yoshihiro Konagai and Keiichiro Uchino, told reporters they also submitted a document notifying the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry that they will represent Fujii on Friday.

Fujii will attend the hearing backed by a team of seven attorneys. It will start at 10 a.m. at an unidentified location outside the ministry complex, the lawyers said.

The hearing is being held in accordance with the Administrative Procedures Law to hear Fujii’s account of the balance sheet issue.

The law stipulates that the hearing be closed unless there are valid reasons to open it to the public.

Ishihara has expressed reservations about holding a public hearing, saying he wants to respect the rights of a man who is about to be thrown out of his post.

Ishihara issued a statement later Tuesday that he takes Fujii’s request seriously and will immediately consider his response.

Fujii’s attorneys said the hearing must be open to the public for the sake of his human rights.

If the hearing is conducted behind closed doors, there is no guarantee that Fujii will get a fair chance to defend himself, the attorneys said in the document they sent to the ministry.

In citing the reasons for Fujii’s dismissal, Ishihara has said his actions, including inconsistent explanations of the balance sheet issue in the Diet, have caused public distrust and thrown the highway corporation into turmoil.

However, the attorneys called these reasons vague and unsubstantiated by fact. They said such reasons cannot measure up to those stipulated by Article 13 of the Japan Highway Public Corporation Law, which empowers the minister to remove highway corporation executives from their posts if they are deemed unfit for the job due to mental and physical breakdowns or violation of obligations of duty.

The attorneys also criticized Ishihara for being politically motivated in trying to sack Fujii. They pointed out that the minister launched the procedure to fire him just before campaigning for the Lower House general election kicks off.

On Monday, Ishihara indicated during a canvassing tour in Aichi Prefecture that he would sack Fujii as early as next week.

But Konagai said it would be impossible for Friday’s hearing to be completed in one day, adding that legal action may be an option if the procedure is unfair.

Government officials and critics fear that the ongoing entanglement over sacking Fujii, who will remain at his post in the meantime, will further delay privatization of Japan Highway and three other public expressway operators in 2005.

Ishihara launched the dismissal process Oct. 6, after Fujii defied a ministerial order to step down.

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