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Friday, May 11, 2007
Muraoka's JDA funds acquittal overturned
By JUN HONGO
The Tokyo High Court on Thursday overturned a lower court acquittal and gave one-time Liberal Democratic Party heavyweight Kanezo Muraoka a suspended 10-month prison term for hiding a 100 million yen 2001 donation from the Japan Dental Association to the LDP's then top faction headed by the late Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.
Presiding Judge Masaru Suda said testimony by the former treasurer of the faction, Toshiyuki Takigawa, that Muraoka had organized the coverup had "exceptionally high credibility."
"It is evident the accused conspired with Takigawa" and decided not to declare the donation in the faction's political funds report, Suda said. He said the district court erred in dismissing Takigawa's testimony.
The court also said Muraoka played a key role in the crime, which had a huge impact on society and left many people "distrustful about the use of political funds."
Muraoka, who had retired from politics after losing his House of Representatives seat in the November 2003 election, told reporters after the verdict that he will appeal the ruling, adding he was "stunned and angered" by the high court's judgment.
He raised his voice and turned red with anger as he claimed the court accepted Takigawa's testimony without any grounds.
"I would like to ask Judge Suda if he feels he betrayed his conscience for making such a ruling," he said. "People will lose their trust in the justice system with such a verdict."
Based on Takigawa's testimony, prosecutors had argued that the former chief Cabinet secretary met with faction executives on March 13, 2002, to discuss whether to list the 100 million yen donation, made in July 2001, in the faction's 2002 political funds report, as required by law.
Takigawa, 58, said it was Muraoka's idea not to record the money, saying "let's not issue a receipt" to the others at the meeting.
The coverup surfaced in July 2004 and it was reported that Hashimoto himself took the 100 million yen check during a dinner with JDA executives. Hashimoto, who died last year, claimed he didn't remember getting the check. The outcry over the incident forced him to quit as faction leader later that month.
Both Takigawa and Muraoka were charged in September 2004, and Takigawa pleaded guilty but said Muraoka was the ringleader. However, everyone who attended the March 2002 meeting, including LDP heavyweights Mikio Aoki and Hiromu Nonaka, claimed it was Takigawa, not Muraoka, who was behind the coverup.
The Tokyo District Court gave Takigawa a suspended 10-month prison term in December 2004. Prosecutors had argued for a one-year term for Muraoka but the same court acquitted him in March 2006, saying the treasurer's testimony was "not credible."
The district court said Takigawa was merely trying to put the blame on Muraoka to protect Hashimoto.
During the high court trial, Takigawa denied the claim and prosecutors said there wasn't any rational reason for Takigawa to blame Muraoka just to save Hashimoto.
Muraoka's lawyers had argued that testimony by Takigawa, who before he was arrested claimed he had no memory of the 2002 meeting, was ambiguous and unreliable.
Muraoka held key Cabinet posts, including transport minister in 1990 in Toshiki Kaifu's government and chief Cabinet secretary under Hashimoto in 1997.