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The Tokyo District Court on Thursday sentenced Mr. Yoshiaki Murakami, a former maverick fund manager, to two years in prison for insider stock trading. The prison term, without a suspension, shows that the judiciary is determined to deal severely with illegal trading activities to ensure sound and equitable development of the stock market. Although Mr. Murakami was charged only with violations of the Security and Exchanges Law, the punishment he has received is harsh — not only because of the prison term but also because of a 3 million yen fine and a record forfeiture of about 1.149 billion yen.

According to the ruling, Mr. Murakami on Sept. 15, 2004, urged Internet and financial services firm Livedoor Co. to purchase a large amount of shares in Nippon Broadcasting System Inc. In a meeting Nov. 8 that year, he learned from Livedoor leader Mr. Takafumi Horie and other Livedoor officials that it was planning to make such a purchase. From the next day through Jan. 26, 2005, Mr. Murakami bought about 1.93 million additional NBS shares for 9.95 billion yen. He then sold some 5 million of the broadcaster’s shares. The Murakami Fund profited to the tune of about 3 billion yen; Mr. Murakami personally gained at least 150 million yen in profits.

Mr. Murakami insisted that he learned of Livedoor’s plan to buy NBS shares by chance. But the court ruled that he deliberately induced Livedoor to disclose insider information and then continued to buy more shares. Referring to his massive amount of funds, it said “he took advantage of his special position that ordinary investors could not attain” to commit the crime.

Mr. Murakami contended that since Livedoor had no concrete plan to raise funds to buy NBS shares, its statements did not constitute insider formation. But the court said the “possibility of realization” was enough to constitute insider information — a warning to market people that they should refrain from an information exchange that could invite suspicion. The ruling as a whole underscores the need for stricter market regulations so that wrongdoings do not go unnoticed.

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