National / Crime & Legal

Three former JR Hokkaido officials found not guilty in data falsification case

JIJI

The Sapporo Summary Court found three former senior officials of Hokkaido Railway Co. (JR Hokkaido) not guilty Wednesday in a case over the falsification of data on track inspections conducted after a freight train derailment in Hokkaido in 2013.

Public prosecutors had demanded that the three, including Yoshihito Okushiba, 56, then the deputy head of the company’s engineering department, pay ¥200,000 to ¥400,000 in fines over the alleged violation of the railway business law.

Meanwhile, the Sapporo court fined JR Hokkaido ¥1 million, as sought by the prosecutors.

In the incident, which occurred on Sept. 19, 2013, a freight train came off a sidetrack at Onuma Station, on JR Hokkaido’s Hakodate Main Line, in the town of Nanae.

In March 2016, a different summary court fined 13 of the company’s workers in charge of track maintenance for manipulating data on track inspections conducted at the derailment site after the incident.

The three officials had been indicted for allegedly conspiring with the maintenance workers to report the falsified track inspection data to the transport ministry and the Japan Transport Safety Board.

In the trial, the three former senior officials denied they were a part of the scheme.

Presiding Judge Shinichiro Yuki at the Sapporo court said that it is “natural and reasonable” for the former officials to have thought that there were errors in original inspection data and that they had been corrected by the maintenance employees later. While it was possible for the maintenance workers to notice abnormalities in the inspection data, the three officials were busy with work related to restoring services after the train derailment and were thus unable to fully examine the data, Yuki said.

“We’ll take an appropriate response after examining the ruling and consulting with a high prosecutor’s office,” said Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi, deputy head of the Sapporo District Public Prosecutor’s Office.