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Friday, March 10, 2006

Trial opens in Nishimura lawyer scandal

Ultraconservative lawmaker admits to charges, claims his cut was legit


Staff writer

OSAKA -- Shingo Nishimura, the ultraconservative Diet member arrested last year for allowing a nonlawyer employee to illegally represent clients in his name, formally owned up to the charges as his Osaka District Court trial opened Thursday.

News photo
Lower house lawmaker Shingo Nishimura enters the Osaka District Court Thursday morning for his first trial session on charges that he allowed a nonlawyer employee to practice law on his behalf.

Nishimura, a former Democratic Party of Japan member and lawyer, was charged in December with allowing Koji Suzuki, 52, a former employee, to practice law without a license. Suzuki worked for Nishimura between 1995 and 2000, when he was fired, Nishimura claimed, after it was learned he did not have a law license.

"My law office hired Koji Suzuki, but I was busy with my work in the Diet and was not able to supervise and observe him, which led to his breaking the Attorney's Law. I deeply apologize for this," Nishimura told the court in his opening statement.

Nishimura has also been charged with violating the Organized Crime Offenses Law by pocketing a portion of the fees Suzuki collected from out-of-court settlements over traffic accidents. Between 1998 and 2004, even after Suzuki had been fired, Nishimura received an estimated 34 million yen.

Prosecutors said the money was used to fund his local office in Sakai, as well as for his personal living expenses. Nishimura, however, claims the payments were legal.

"It's true that the money from Suzuki was deposited in an account with my name. But that money was for services rendered as a lawyer, not illegal payoffs from Suzuki," Nishimura's statement said.

Despite pressure to resign from the Diet, Nishimura told reporters last month he had no intention of doing so. Following his arrest last year, he was kicked out of the DPJ and became an independent lawmaker.

Nishimura won a House of Representatives seat for the first time in 1993 and is now serving his fifth term.

As a lawmaker, Nishimura has long been known for two things, his fervent support of people working on behalf of Japanese abducted to North Korea, and his outspoken nationalistic views.

In 1997, Nishimura and Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara visited the Senkaku Islands, which are claimed by China and Taiwan as well as Japan, which effectively controls them.

Two years later, Nishimura was forced to resign as deputy director general of the Defense Agency for suggesting Japan should have nuclear weapons.

He is also an adviser to several ultraright-wing groups, including Friends of the Sword, which police believe placed a bomb at Deputy Foreign Minister Hitoshi Tanaka's house in 2003 over their displeasure with his stance on the abduction issue.

Nishimura told reporters on Jan. 17 that he has no intention of giving up his seat in the Lower House as he wants to deal with the abduction issue.



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