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.