The Tokyo District Court on Friday sentenced former House of Representatives lawmaker Muneo Suzuki to two years in prison and fined him 11 million yen for accepting bribes, falsifying a political funds report and perjury.
Lawyers for Suzuki, once a senior member of the Liberal Democratic Party, immediately filed an appeal. He was released on 70 million yen bail the same day.
Suzuki, 56, was convicted of conspiring with his policy secretary, Jun Tada, 52, to accept 6 million yen in bribes from construction company Shimada Kensetsu between 1997 and 1998, and 5 million yen in 1998 from timber firm Yamarin. Both companies are based in Hokkaido, from where Suzuki hails.
He was also convicted of falsifying a political funds report in 1998 together with Tada and another secretary, 56-year-old Akira Miyano, by omitting 100 million yen in donations and committing perjury before the Lower House Budget Committee.
Both Miyano and Tada were convicted and received suspended sentences. They have appealed.
Suzuki had pleaded not guilty to all four counts. Prosecutors had sought a four-year prison term in addition to the 11 million yen fine.
“As a Lower House member who represented the people and served in key posts as deputy chief Cabinet secretary and head of the Hokkaido Development Agency, the defendant was in a position that required very high moral standards and incorruptibility,” presiding Judge Shoichi Yagi said in his ruling.
“His criminal responsibility for betraying the people’s trust toward such senior government positions and Diet members, as well as the system that controls political funds, is extremely grave.”
He said that although Suzuki has made a recognizable contribution to national politics since being elected to the Lower House in 1983, it was inappropriate to suspend the former lawmaker’s sentence because he had continued to deny the allegations and made “irrational excuses” during the investigation and trial.
Yagi added that Suzuki slandered people who gave disadvantageous testimony and showed no sign of remorse.
Speaking at a news conference after his release on bail, Suzuki acknowledged that he did some soul-searching for damaging the public’s trust in politics.
However, he again claimed his innocence and reiterated his position that prosecutors had waged their investigation with the sole purpose of getting him convicted.
“I have testified honestly. What is a trial for if that (testimony) is going to be shot down as irrational?” he asked.
Yukuo Omuro, Suzuki’s lawyer, also criticized the ruling, saying the court simply accepted the prosecution’s argument.
“The court’s judgment regarding the reliability of evidence is lopsided, and I cannot accept its determination of the facts” surrounding the case, he said.
Suzuki, known for his forceful, overbearing personality, exerted strong influence over the Foreign Ministry and worked to secure pork-barrel projects for his home prefecture of Hokkaido.
He had a strong interest in Russia and paid keen attention to issues related to four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido that are claimed by Japan.
According to the court, Shimada Kensetsu, based in Abashiri, Hokkaido, approached Suzuki in October 1997, when he was head of the Hokkaido Development Agency, and asked for his help in winning public works orders. In return, the Cabinet minister received a total of 6 million yen from the company.
In August 1998, Yamarin, based in Obihiro, Hokkaido, asked Suzuki, who was then deputy chief Cabinet secretary, to ask the Forestry Agency to give it preferential treatment. At the time, the agency had slapped a seven-month participatory ban on the timber company for illegally logging national forests.
Yamarin paid Suzuki 5 million yen for his help.
Suzuki also filed a false 1998 political funds report for his political fund management body, in violation of the Political Funds Control Law, and failed to declare 100 million yen in income from sales of tickets to fundraisers and donations.
He later spent 36 million yen of this money to buy a home in Tokyo.
Suzuki also committed perjury at a session of the Lower House Budget Committee on March 11, 2002, when he appeared as a sworn witness to respond to questions regarding the various allegations brought against him.
During that session, he hid the fact that he was paid bribes from Shimada Kensetsu, and gave false testimony about the fact that between 1986 and 1990, the salary of his private secretary was paid by the contractor firm and its subsidiary.
Suzuki left the LDP in March 2002 before his arrest in June that year. He refused to resign from the Lower House, but automatically lost his seat when the chamber was dissolved in October 2003 for a general election the following month.
He was released on bail in August 2003 after being detained for 437 days. He had intended to run in the November election, but abandoned the idea because he had to undergo surgery for stomach cancer.
He ran and lost as an independent from the Hokkaido constituency in the July 11 House of Councilors election.
Suzuki recently indicated he was interested in running in the next Lower House poll after forming a new party.
Information from Kyodo added
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