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Friday, April 13, 2007

Murakami issues last denials in trial

Staff writers

Celebrated fund manager Yoshiaki Murakami on Thursday continued to deny his involvement in insider trading of Nippon Broadcasting System Inc. shares at his final court session, claiming he didn't receive any tips indicating Livedoor Co. executives were going to try to take over the radio broadcaster.

"I knew Livedoor was interested in purchasing (either) NBS or Fuji Television Network Inc., but that information alone does not indicate I was involved in insider trading," Murakami told the Tokyo District Court during the questioning by prosecutors.

Thursday's session was the last in the trial, which will proceed to prosecutors' demands on May 11. The defense team will make its closing arguments on June 12, and the verdict is expected in summer.

The focus of Murakami's trial has been on how much prior information the financier had about Livedoor's purchases of NBS stock.

Murakami stands accused of engaging in insider trading of NBS shares because he allegedly learned before Nov. 8, 2004, that Livedoor was preparing to make a bid to acquire NBS before the end of March 2005.

Prosecutors allege that MAC Asset Management Inc., an investment advisory firm Murakami headed that is now known as MAC Asset Management Pte., Ltd., based in Singapore, paid 9.95 billion yen to acquire about 1.93 million shares of NBS from Nov. 9, 2004, through Jan. 26, 2005.

Murakami then sold 5 million of the shares after Livedoor announced on Feb. 8, 2005, that it had suddenly acquired a 35 percent stake in the broadcaster. MAC asset reportedly made 3 billion yen off the transaction.

NBS was targeted because the AM radio broadcaster was then the parent company of Fuji Television Network, the flagship company of the Fuji Sankei media conglomerate.

Shortly before his arrest last June, Murakami acknowledged in a news conference that he knew about Livedoor's intention to acquire NBS before it was announced and that his actions could be construed as insider trading.

But the financier then changed his tune and pleaded not guilty when the trial began in December.

On Tuesday, Murakami testified for the defense that he didn't hear anything at the Nov. 8, 2004, meeting with Livedoor that could be viewed as insider trading.

Murakami said they talked about what Livedoor could do with the media conglomerate if it won control of NBS, but added that he knew Livedoor didn't have the financial capability to do so.

During the cross-examination by prosecutors Wednesday and Thursday, Murakami said he lied at the June briefing because he wanted to protect other MAC Asset employees from being arrested so the fund could keep operating.

"There were things I needed to protect even if that meant that I had to lie," Murakami said Thursday. "It was the wrong thing to do and I apologize."

Murakami also said he planned to deny the charges until last June 4, the day before his arrest, when he was persuaded by MAC Asset's executives to take the blame himself and save MAC Asset.

"I was surprised when my subordinates first asked me to sacrifice myself . . . but I thought that was my fate and decided to do it," he said.

MAC Asset executives have testified that their boss owned up to the charges to save the fund and its investors.

Livedoor founder Takafumi Horie, who was convicted in March for violating the Securities and Exchange Law, testified on Murakami's behalf last month. He told the court that his final decision to acquire NBS shares was made "right before the actual purchase" in February 2005, denying prosecutors' allegations that he and former Livedoor Chief Financial Officer Ryoji Miyauchi had told Murakami about the takeover at least as early as Nov. 8, 2004.

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