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A senior official of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry was cleared of criminal charges Friday that she fabricated and issued an official document to an organization enabling it to abuse the mail discount system for disabled people.

The Osaka District Court found Atsuko Muraki, 54, former director general of the ministry’s Equal Employment, Children and Families Bureau, not guilty.

Presiding Judge Nobuyuki Yokota brushed aside the prosecutors’ argument that Muraki had instructed a subordinate to forge the official document.

Muraki pleaded not guilty when the trial opened in January, while the prosecutors sought an 18-month prison sentence.

Judicial experts had expected the decision, noting that the three-judge panel led by Yokota had decided not to adopt as evidence most depositions by her alleged accomplices and witnesses linking her to the abuse of the mail discount system.

The court dismissed the depositions on the grounds that the prosecutors could have influenced the answers of those questioned.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry issued a statement acknowledging that the court accepted Muraki’s argument.

The ministry “will continue closely watching future developments,” the statement said, noting that Friday’s court decision is not yet final and binding.

The Osaka District Public Prosecutor’s Office indicted Muraki in July 2009 on suspicion of instructing a lower-ranking official to fabricate and issue the ministry document bearing her seal in June 2004, when she was the head of a ministry section in charge of measures for the disabled.

After her arrest in June 2009, Muraki was relieved of her duties as head of the Equal Employment, Children and Families Bureau. She was released on bail in November 2009.

In their closing statement, the prosecutors had argued that the welfare ministry acted under political pressure to recognize the bogus organization, called Rin-no-kai, as one working for the disabled.

The prosecutors insisted that the document could not be forged without Muraki’s instruction or approval.

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