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The criminal investigation into the falsification of earthquake-resistance data for buildings, which surfaced in November 2005 and shook the nation, has ended with the indictment of disgraced structure designer Mr. Hidetsugu Aneha and several other people. The investigation’s outcome shows the issue involves more than the wrongdoings of a person who lost his sense of professional integrity.

Only Mr. Aneha was indicted on suspicion of being directly involved in the fabrication of structural-calculation documents. The five other suspects were indicted on charges indirectly related to the data fabrication, such as fraud. For example, Mr. Togo Fujita, president of building-inspection agency e-Homes Inc — which failed to detect structural deficiency in 37 buildings — has been accused of window-dressing his firm’s financial reports.

But the investigation has shed light on larger problems. It has shown that behind the scandal is the government’s deregulation policy, which enabled government-designated private agencies to certify building designs beginning in 1999. Private agencies failed to detect 57 of the 98 cases of data fabrication by Mr. Aneha. Twenty-nine local governments made the same mistake in the remaining 41 cases.

Under revisions made to the Building Standards Law and three other laws in mid-June, a third-party organization will be established to examine building designs, supplementing the inspections carried out by private agencies and local governments. Also to be introduced are inspections of designs after the start of construction. Punishments for architects and building dealers who break the laws concerned will become harsher. Architects could face imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of up to 3 million yen, much severer than the current fine of up to 500,000 yen.

Even with these improvements, however, the victims of the building safety scandal continue to suffer and measures to help them remain inadequate. The Diet and the court must seriously consider ways to enable these victims to live in safe buildings.

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