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Friday, March 31, 2006

Muraoka acquitted of hiding JDA check

Court discounts treasurer's testimony


Staff writer

The Tokyo District Court found former Liberal Democratic Party heavyweight Kanezo Muraoka not guilty Thursday of concealing a 100 million yen donation from the nation's dental lobby in July 2001 to the then top LDP faction.

News photo
Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Kanezo Muraoka arrives Thursday at the Tokyo District Court.

Muraoka was accused of playing a key role in illegally concealing the huge unreported donation, which was made by the Japan Dental Association to the LDP's Heisei Kenkyu Kai (Heisei Study Group) in 2001. Muraoka was then acting chairman of the faction, headed by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.

The concealment was revealed in summer 2004, when the faction -- the most powerful in the LDP -- was led by Hashimoto, who, it was widely reported, was the one handed the 100 million yen check.

Prosecutors sought a one-year prison term for Muraoka.

During the trial, the faction treasurer, Toshiyuki Takigawa, testified that it was Muraoka who persuaded the faction's leaders to hide the donation from the annual political funds report it submitted to the government in March 2002.

According to Takigawa, Heisei execs met on March 13, 2002, to discuss whether to report the 100 million yen in the faction's annual report. At the end of the meeting, Muraoka allegedly took charge by saying, "Let's not issue a receipt" for the money.

But the court said there were many unnatural points in Takigawa's testimony and judged it was "not credible."

The court thus concluded it was possible Takigawa falsely blamed Muraoka to divert attention from other key members of the faction, including Hashimoto. It also said his testimony appeared designed to prevent investigators from looking into the LDP's "opaque" fundraising system in general. Takigawa was convicted of the act of concealing the 100 million yen check in December 2004.

"The accused is found innocent," presiding Judge Masaaki Kawaguchi said at the outset of the hearing.

The faction has publicly acknowledged receiving the 100 million yen check from the dental lobby and failing to disclose it in its annual report. Who was responsible for organizing the coverup was the focus of Muraoka's trial.

Explaining the "unnatural points" in Takigawa's testimony, the court noted that Takigawa could not remember any specific remarks during the meeting except those of Muraoka and Mitsuhiro Uesugi, another faction executive.

Takigawa had initially claimed he alone was responsible for failing to disclose the donation. But later on, he started to claim Muraoka played a role in forming the faction's "consensus" on the concealment.

With Muraoka's acquittal, it appears Takigawa will be the only faction executive held responsible for the decision to hide the 100 million yen.

Prosecutors have closed their probe into the others who attended the March 13 executive meeting, including Hashimoto, Upper House heavyweight Mikio Aoki and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka, who was director general of the faction.

An inquest of prosecution called for the investigation to be reopened, calling the first decision "inappropriate."

However, the prosecutor's office in December again decided not to charge anyone else, claiming they could not find sufficient evidence to indict more politicians.

Prosecutors in Muraoka's trial had no hard evidence, basing their argument solely on Takigawa's testimony.

Hashimoto, Nonaka, Aoki and Muraoka have all denied they controlled the faction's purse and have blamed Takigawa -- who is not a Diet member -- for concealing the 100 million yen donation.

The donation came in the form of a check on July 2, 2001, when former Japan Dental Association chief Sadao Usuda, 75, and Hirotake Uchida, 65, a former standing director of the group, dined with Hashimoto, Aoki, 71, and Nonaka, 80, in Tokyo, according to the prosecutors.



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