The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department and the Chiba and Kanagawa prefectural police launched a joint investigation Dec. 20 into Japan’s building-design scandal, raiding more than 100 locations in Tokyo and five prefectures — Chiba, Saitama, Fukuoka, Kumamoto and Miyazaki.
The large number of raided sites and the fact that more than 520 officers were mobilized reflect the serious nature of the scandal that has arisen from the fabrication of earthquake-resistance data by structural engineer Mr. Hidetsugu Aneha as well as the eagerness of the police to discover the extent of the scandal — from initial plans and designs for affected buildings to design certification, construction and sales.
It is hoped that the police will live up to the determination expressed by National Police Agency Director General Iwao Uruma: “We will thoroughly unravel this.”
The scandal began Nov. 17 when the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry announced that Mr. Aneha had fabricated earthquake-resistance data in designs for 20 condominiums and a hotel in Tokyo, Chiba and Kanagawa.
There is no sign of the scandal abating. As of Dec. 20, 78 buildings in Tokyo and 16 prefectures appeared to have been affected, comprising 39 condominiums, 36 hotels and three houses. Many of the condominiums are concentrated in the Tokyo area, while the hotels are spread across the country.
The police raids were primarily based on an accusation filed by the ministry that Mr. Aneha had fabricated data for three condominiums and a hotel in Tokyo between February 2003 and June 2004. The strength of the buildings in question is 26 percent to 33 percent of the required level. It is feared that they will collapse if an earthquake of upper-5 intensity (on the Japanese scale of 7) strikes. Under a 1981 regulation, buildings must be strong enough to resist a quake of upper-6 intensity.
It is reassuring that police have expanded their investigation into cases not directly related to the ministry’s accusation. Targets of the police raids have included the office and house of Mr. Aneha, developers Huser Ltd. in Tokyo and Shinoken Co. in Fukuoka, Kimura Construction Co. in Kumamoto, and state-approved building design certification firm eHomes Inc. in Tokyo, which failed to detect the falsified data later used to build the four structures in question.
Police have also searched General Management Consultant (Soken) in Tokyo, which advised clients on hotel construction, Heisei Sekkei (hotel design), and Japan ERI Co., another building design certification firm that failed to challenge Mr. Aneha’s fabrications. As the large scale of the police searches suggests, investigators should go beyond collecting evidence about Mr. Aneha’s wrongdoings and set out to piece together the whole picture of the scandal.
Mr. Aneha’s testimony before a Diet panel clearly indicates that he fabricated earthquake-resistance data. It is also clear that the firms concerned — the developers, the builder and the consulting firm — placed priority on lowering construction costs rather than on ensuring safety, and that buildings not having the required strength were sold to people.
Nevertheless, it will be difficult to determine what kinds of connections existed between which person and which company and, if so, what roles each played. To prove their criminality as accomplices will be even tougher because all the people concerned, except Mr. Aneha, have denied that they knowingly participated in illegal acts.
As far as Mr. Aneha is concerned, the maximum punishment to which he may be subjected is a 500,000 yen fine under the Building Standards Law. To go further and implicate the construction company, police must prove that it exerted pressure on Mr. Aneha to reduce the number of concrete-reinforcing bars while aware that doing so was illegal.
If police can prove that the developers sold buildings with the express knowledge that they were constructed according to designs based on fabricated data, the developers could be charged with violations of the law pertaining to dealers in residential land and buildings, or with fraud.
If police can prove that the certification firms casually gave a passing mark to designs, the firms may be charged with negligence. To establish criminality, police must overcome a series of hurdles, including analyzing a massive amount of confiscated materials. Ascertaining responsibility will require strong will and tenacity on the part of investigators.
The scandal also underscores inadequacies of the Building Standards Law itself, including provisions that stipulate too light a punishment of violators. The public now worries about the trustworthiness of the process to certify building designs and inspect completed buildings. The government must redress weaknesses in the process immediately.
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