The Supreme Court has turned down an appeal by Lower House member Muneo Suzuki to overturn a bribery conviction, meaning he will likely lose his Diet seat and go to prison.
The decision, which took effect Tuesday and was made public Wednesday, came nearly six years after the Tokyo District Court handed Suzuki a two-year prison term and an ¥11 million fine in November 2004 for four counts, including taking bribes from two Hokkaido companies. The Tokyo High Court upheld the ruling in February 2008.
Suzuki, 62, said Wednesday he will “keep fighting” in the courts, reiterating that he never took a bribe.
“Under any environment, I will keep fighting against the power of prosecutors,” he said.
Suzuki, a former member of the Liberal Democratic Party and now leader of the minor New Party Daichi, has the right to file a complaint over the Supreme Court rejection but will lose his seat in the Lower House under the Diet Law and the Public Office Election Law if the complaint is turned down and the ruling is subsequently finalized.
He would be banned from running for public office for five years after serving his prison term.
In addition to the two bribery counts, Suzuki was convicted of failure to declare political donations and Diet perjury. He denies receiving bribes and granting favors to the companies, and pleaded innocent to all of the charges against him.
The five Supreme Court justices who handled the case agreed unanimously to reject the appeal.
Later the same day, opposition lawmakers questioned why the ruling Democratic Party of Japan pushed for Suzuki to become chairman of the lower chamber’s foreign affairs committee.
“How will the (Lower House) speaker consider his responsibility” for naming convicted criminal Suzuki, Tadamori Oshima, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, said at a press conference.
“It is extremely regrettable to see the incumbent foreign affairs panel chief lose his seat,” New Komeito head Natsuo Yamaguchi told reporters. “It undermines the dignity of the Diet and damages public trust in the legislature,” he said.
According to the lower court ruling, Suzuki, who was a state minister and Hokkaido Development Agency chief from 1997 and 1998, received ¥6 million in bribes from Shimada Kensetsu, a construction firm in Abashiri, in October 1997, and ¥5 million from Yamarin, a timber company in Obihiro, in August 1998.
Shimada Kensetsu, ailing at the time, asked Suzuki to help it secure public works orders, while Yamarin asked Suzuki to urge the Forestry Agency to give the company enough work through discretionary contracts to recover losses incurred after the agency banned it from projects for unauthorized logging in national forests.
In throwing out Suzuki’s appeal, the Supreme Court referred to the bribery charge involving the Hokkaido Development Agency, saying the bribery was done “in the form of instruction” to an employee at the agency and that it “was closely connected with his post as agency chief.”
Suzuki was a Lower House member of the LDP but left the party in March 2002 before his arrest that June.
He ran for the Upper House in July 2004 in the Hokkaido district as an independent but failed to win a seat. He won in the September 2005 Lower House election under the proportional representation system as head of the Hokkaido-based New Party Daichi.
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