It was cut corners or Kimura axed contract: Aneha to Diet

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Disgraced architect Hidetsugu Aneha told a Diet committee Wednesday that Akira Shinozuka, Tokyo branch manager for Kimura Construction Co., specified exactly how much he should reduce the reinforcing steel in the building plans he falsified.

Aneha, who was stripped of his first-class architect license last week, said Shinozuka, who threatened to take his business elsewhere, once showed him a list giving the amount of reinforcement steel for a building and told him to reduce each piece to 60 kg when 80 kg to 100 kg of steel should have been used.

“When I first submitted the building plan based on the correct (structural strength) calculations, Shinozuka said the plan did not suit the construction budget,” Aneha told the Lower House Land, Infrastructure and Transport Committee.

Shinozuka told the previous Diet committee session last month that he never told Aneha the extent that reinforcement steel should be reduced.

“I kept refusing and told Shinozuka that this was the smallest possible amount (of steel that could be safely used) and that I could not reduce it any further . . . but he said if I did not follow his instructions, (Kimura Construction) would use other design offices,” Aneha said, adding that Shinozuka should have known it was illegal to reduce the reinforcement steel any further.

Although Shinozuka admitted at a separate session of the committee held later in the day that he threatened to use other design offices unless Aneha slashed costs, he claimed he was never aware of the possibility that his instructions would prompt Aneha to act illegally.

Shinozuka said Aneha told him it would be “tough, figures-wise,” but claimed it was his understanding that the architect would act within the law.

Kimura Construction President Moriyoshi Kimura also denied any wrongdoing, claiming he was never aware of Aneha’s falsification of quake-resistance data because the process is “more important than the Constitution in our trade.”

Aneha said he initially refused to cut the amount of steel because he took pride in his position as a first-class architect, but he finally gave in because he feared losing the Kimura Construction contract, which accounted for about 90 percent of his work.

The contractor filed for protection after the scandal broke.

“My wife had been prone to illness and was in and out of the clinic,” he said. “I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but I was too weak.”

Aneha, who declined twice to give unsworn testimony to the Diet committee, citing an emotional breakdown, apologized for his role in the falsifications.

“I apologize to the residents of the affected condominium complexes, to the public and to others concerned for causing trouble.”

But at the same time, he said, he could not have committed the fraud if the falsified data had not been overlooked.

“The fabrication of data could be easily detected if anyone specialized in structural strength looked at the construction plans.”

He said the falsified data were conspicuous because the methods were simple: just assuming less stress was on a building’s reinforcement columns in the calculations.

“I thought the state-designated building inspection companies would detect the fraud quickly,” Aneha said.

He cited lax screening procedures at eHomes Inc., which state-certified dozens of plans he submitted with falsified quake-resistance data.

“I had the impression that eHomes barely checked the calculations,” Aneha said, adding that the eHomes screening sometimes only took two weeks, which meant inspectors only had a few hours to go through the calculations.

The building-safety scam continues to grow, with the tally of buildings constructed with falsified quake-resistance data standing at 71 as of Wednesday, according to the land ministry.

When the scandal broke in mid-November, 21 construction plans were reported to have been falsified, with 14 buildings already constructed and seven under construction.

Most of the 14 structures were assessed to be at risk of collapsing in an earthquake with an intensity of upper 5 on the Japanese seismic scale to 7.

Although Aneha said he cannot recall exactly how many falsified building plans he made, he said the number was about 60. Aneha said he first got involved in the fraud back in 1998 with the condominium complex Ground Stage Ikegami in Tokyo’s Ota Ward.

One of the lawmakers said Kimura, condominium developer Huser Ltd. and Shinoken Co. were involved in most of the structures approved with falsified data.

Aneha said other firms besides Kimura did not pressure him directly to cut the quantity of reinforcement steel.

However, he did touch on indirect pressure from Huser, citing the condominium developer’s aggressive cost-cutting policy.

Huser sought very low construction cost per unit, Aneha said, and although he claimed he did not have personal contact with Huser, he said he felt it was impossible to further cut the steel content without violating the law.

Later in the afternoon, General Management Consultant (Soken) President Takeshi Uchikawa also denied that his consulting firm conspired in the shoddy construction scam.

Soken served as a consultant for the operators of 24 business hotels built with falsified quake-proofing data. Soken reportedly advised the hoteliers to use Heisei Sekkei, an architectural design office affiliated with Kimura, to reduce construction costs.

Aneha had close ties with Heisei Sekkei, sometimes using the firm’s business cards.

“I am sorry that our clients are in trouble and we will do our best to help the owners of the hotels,” Uchikawa said. But Soken employees do not know anything about the structural soundness of the hotels and were unaware of the fraud, he claimed.

The committee members branded Uchikawa the mastermind behind the building safety scandal.

Uchikawa claimed he did not know Aneha was involved in the development of the hotels until the scandal broke. Although Uchikawa admitted that Takeshi Shikasho, a chief consultant at Soken, met Aneha twice, he stressed that he had never met Aneha.

Aneha said he met Shikasho four or five times, including once in March 2004 with architect Tomoyuki Watanabe, the whistle-blower to the fraud and chief of Atlas Architect Design Office. Watanabe was the first to point out the defective building plans.

“Shikasho, who holds a first-class architect license, was also unaware of the falsified quake-resistance data,” Uchikawa said.

One of the lawmakers who questioned Uchikawa before the session accused him of persisting in denying all knowledge of the fraud, showing a note in Shikasho’s own handwriting sent to Heisei Sekkei that made specific demands to reduce the reinforcement steel.