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A former employee of consumer loan company Takefuji Corp. was sentenced Friday to a suspended three-year prison term for wiretapping two journalists in 2000 and 2001.

It is the first ruling to be handed down in connection with the wiretapping scandal.

The Tokyo District Court handed down the ruling against Kazuhiro Nakagawa, 43, a former customer service representative.

Nakagawa admitted conspiring in the wiretapping episode with former Takefuji Chairman Yasuo Takei, 74, but denied embezzling documents from the firm in October 2002, after he had left Takefuji.

Prosecutors had demanded a four-year sentence for Nakagawa, who had pleaded guilty to all of the wiretapping charges.

In handing down Friday’s sentence, Judge Satoru Hattori said, “The wiretapping went on for a long period of time, and the defendant played an important and indispensable role.”

At the same time, however, the judge determined that the mastermind behind the operation was Takei, and noted that Nakagawa, who was acting on Takei’s instructions, was repentant over his actions.

Under Takei’s orders, Nakagawa hired a private detective agency in Yokohama from December 2000 to February 2001 to bug the phones of two journalists who had written investigative articles on Takefuji and to record their conversations, according to the court.

Judge Hattori ruled that Takei was under the impression that someone with a grudge against Takefuji was having journalists write critical articles about the moneylender to lower its stock price.

In addition, after quitting Takefuji, Nakagawa passed on customer data and other documents he obtained from the loan company to Cho Man Gil, a Korean resident here known for his underworld connections, in order to extort money from the company, prosecutors maintained.

But Nakagawa claimed he had taken Takefuji documents because he wanted to publicize the company’s wrongdoings.

The judge stated that, while this motive was present, Nakagawa’s main aim was to gain money through the documents so that he could pay off his debts.

Nakagawa was first arrested on embezzlement charges in April last year. His court confession in June led to the discovery of the wiretappings and to Takei’s involvement.

Takei, who is being tried separately in connection with the wiretappings, has owned up to the charges and apologized.

Cho, 54, is being tried for alleged attempted extortion.

Nakagawa’s sentence was suspended for five years.

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