A former senior education ministry official was sentenced to 18 months in prison, suspended for three years, on Wednesday for receiving bribes from a former consulting firm executive.
The Tokyo District Court also gave Kazuaki Kawabata, 58, former director general for international affairs at the ministry, a ¥1.54 million fine for being wined and dined by Koji Taniguchi, 48, in return for helping to bring an astronaut to speak at a ceremony at Tokyo Medical University. Kawabata was working at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) at the time.
“Undeniably, the defendant was aware it was bribery,” said presiding Judge Goichi Nishino, dismissing Kawabata’s claim that he should be acquitted as he was not aware he was being bribed because he had a friend-like relationship with Taniguchi.
The judge said Kawabata “seriously lacked awareness about his position as a senior ministry official and severely damaged people’s trust in the fairness of his work.”
The ruling said Kawabata, while on assignment to JAXA as an executive board member, was treated to meals and drinks worth ¥1.48 million over 21 occasions between August 2015 and March 2017 in return for the favor, according to court documents.
Prosecutors had sought an unsuspended prison term of 18 months.
It was the first ruling handed down in a growing scandal at the ministry that has seen five people indicted.
The ties between Kawabata and Taniguchi were brought to light through a separate investigation into corruption involving the medical university and Futoshi Sano, 60, former director general of the ministry’s science and technology bureau.
Sano was indicted in July 2018 for allegedly helping the university secure a government subsidy in exchange for a place at the institution for his son.
Taniguchi, who has been indicted on a charge of bribery, is suspected to have also played a role in the case by bringing Sano and the chiefs of the university together.