Disgraced architect Hidetsugu Aneha and seven of his associates were arrested Wednesday in a sweep of key figures linked to the building safety fraud that has rocked the country, but the specific charges they face as yet are not tied to the scam.
The eight are the first to be arrested in the scandal, which sent shock waves nationwide after scores of buildings were found to lack adequate structural integrity and were forced to close and residents of many had to vacate, but still pay their mortgages.
At the center is Aneha, 48, who has admitted designing dozens of buildings to substandard quake-resistance levels due to cost-cutting pressure from clients. The scandal broke in November.
The data fabrications left numerous housing complexes and hotels at risk of collapsing in earthquakes with an intensity of only upper 5 on the Japanese intensity scale to 7.
The others arrested are:
* Moriyoshi Kimura, 74, president of Kimura Construction, an Aneha client;
* Akira Shinozuka, 45, a former head of Kimura Construction’s Tokyo office;
* Mitsuo Morishita, 51, a Kimura executive;
* Masahiro Hashimoto, 48, also a Kimura executive;
* Mikio Akiba, 46, an architectural designer;
* Togo Fujita, 44, president of building inspection agency eHomes Inc.;
* Mitsuji Kishimoto, 66, an eHomes executive.
The charges Aneha and the others face are not directly linked to the data fabrication scandal, but sources said police hope their investigation helps them build criminal cases that can be linked to the eight and others.
A lawyer for Shinozuka said in a statement that the arrest was illegal because police cited charges in the warrant that are irrelevant to the quake-data fabrication scandal, and are trying to build a case based on falsehoods.
Aneha is suspected of violating the law governing architects by allowing his name as a state-licensed first-class architect to be used by architectural designer Akiba in Chiba Prefecture.
The investigators suspect the designer compiled data for 14 buildings, even though he was not authorized to do so, and that Aneha received kickbacks in return.
Kimura is suspected of window-dressing the company’s financial reports in March 2005 to show the Yatsushiro, Kumamoto Prefecture-based builder had earned a pretax profit of 50 million yen for the year through June 2004.
Fujita is suspected of falsifying his company’s financial documents in December 2001 just prior to acquiring official government certification as an inspector. The president allegedly pretended eHomes had capital of 50 million yen, investigation sources said.
Kimura Construction built 56 of the 98 buildings constructed according to Aneha’s falsified data, according to the Land, Infrastructure and Aneha has basically admitted lending his name to Akiba, according to investigative sources. Kimura has done likewise, but the other three ex-Kimura executives have denied any wrongdoing, as has eHomes’ Fujita, they said.
A probe by the ministry found that eHomes inspected 37 of the 98 housing complexes and hotels and did not detect any irregularities.
Police also hope to establish a case against Susumu Ojima, president of bankrupt condominium developer Huser Ltd., another Aneha client.
Ojima is suspected of selling condos in a building in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, despite knowing it had been built on data fabricated by Aneha.
Reacting to the arrests, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe told reporters the government will seek early passage of bills to revise the Building Standards Law and three other laws.
The package will feature a provision raising the maximum penalty for architects and builders who put up shoddy buildings.
Naoto Kan, deputy president of the Democratic Party of Japan, who heads the main opposition party’s team looking into the scandal, said governmental divisions that oversee the construction industry bear a heavy responsibility for failing to detect the data fabrications.