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Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2006
Aneha handed five years
By JUN HONGO
The Tokyo District Court sentenced architect Hidetsugu Aneha to five years in prison Tuesday and fined him 1.8 million yen for fabricating earthquake-resistance data on six condominiums and hotels.
Wrapping up a trial that has been in the media spotlight for four months, presiding Judge Masaaki Kawaguchi handed down a stern sentence, denouncing Aneha, 49, for a crime he called "vicious" and "unprecedented," and one that endangered many lives.
Kawaguchi, instead of meting out a suspended sentence as some predicted, sent Aneha to prison so he could "grasp the gravity of the crimes he committed."
Aneha, dressed in dark suit and without his usual toupee, sat expressionless as the verdict was read. He bowed to the judge before exiting the courtroom.
The former licensed architect was also found guilty of lying under oath to a Lower House committee last December when he said he began falsifying quake resistance data in 1998.
The court ruled that Aneha had been faking the data since 1996.
Kawaguchi also convicted him of illegally lending his name as a first-class licensed architect to Chiba Prefecture-based designer Mikio Akiba in return for 4.45 million yen in kickbacks.
Akiba, 46, Aneha's codefendant in the trial, was given a suspended 14-month prison term for using the architect's name on his blueprints in violation of the registered architect law.
Aneha's lawyers did not say whether he would appeal.
They argued during the trial that he should not be held solely responsible for the building scam because inspection agencies, including eHomes Inc., could have prevented the structures from going up had they done their jobs properly.
Aneha pleaded guilty to all of the charges except perjury. He claimed his false testimony before the Diet was unintentional.
But the judge held that Aneha was at the center of "one of the biggest scandals in the history of Japan's construction industry," adding he "lacked professional ethics or responsibility as a licensed first-class architect."
Although Aneha's faked data were used in dozens of condos and hotels, he was specifically convicted of falsifying the quake-resistance data on four condo high-rises and two hotels in Tokyo and Kanagawa and Nara prefectures between February 2003 and February 2005. It is believed he hoped to cut costs and construction times by reducing the number of steel reinforcement rods to less than the legal minimum.
A later investigation revealed that structures built based on the falsified documents are at risk of collapse in an earthquake with an intensity of upper 5 on the Japanese intensity scale to 7.
Residents of the four condo buildings have had to move out and some buildings have already been torn down.
One of the two hotels remains shuttered. The other was razed.
The charges focused on six of 99 shoddy buildings in Tokyo and 17 prefectures on which Aneha was found to have doctored structural data beginning in 1996. Some of the six buildings have only a quarter of the structural reinforcement required by law.
Prosecutors had sought a five-year sentence and a 1.8 million yen fine, asking the court not to suspend Aneha's sentence in their final arguments in October.
The building scandal broke in November 2005 after Togo Fujita, president of eHomes, reported the architect's misconduct to the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry.
Aneha was arrested in April and held at the Tokyo Detention House until last Thursday, when he was freed on a 5 million yen bond.
Aneha initially claimed he was pressured to fabricate the structural data by Kimura Construction Co. for a condo in Ota Ward, Tokyo, in 1998 but later admitted there was no outside pressure.
Five of Aneha's associates including Akiba have been indicted but none has been charged with involvement in the data fabrication.
EHomes President Fujita, whose company failed to detect 37 instances of substandard construction in buildings designed by Aneha, received a suspended 18-month prison term in October for accounting violations.
Moriyoshi Kimura, president of Kimura Construction, and Akira Shinozuka, former head of the builder's Tokyo office, were both charged with falsifying Kimura Construction's financial statements.
Kimura is still on trial. Shinozuka was handed a suspended one-year prison term in November.
Susumu Ojima, president of condominium developer Huser Ltd., is charged with knowingly selling defective condos designed by Aneha and defrauding clients out of some 410 million yen. He has pleaded not guilty in his ongoing trial.
Judge Kawaguchi said in his decision that it would take years before the construction industry regains the public's trust, but efforts to re-establish that trust have already begun.
The House of Councilors earlier this month revised the Architect Certification Law for the first time since its passage in 1950 in an effort to bolster the qualifications of licensed architects.
The revision, which imposes stricter requirements, including five years of experience as a designer before obtaining a license as a first-class architect, will take effect in two years.