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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

COURT: HUSER HEAD KNEW OF DEFECTS

Last tried over Aneha fraud avoids prison


Staff writer

The Tokyo District Court handed a suspended three-year prison term to a bankrupt condominium developer Tuesday for knowingly selling defective condos designed by disgraced architect Hidetsugu Aneha and defrauding his clients out of about ¥415 million.

Susumu Ojima, former president of Huser Ltd., is the last of six people indicted over the quake-resistance fabrication scam to be handed a verdict.

The Supreme Court finalized Aneha's five-year prison term and a fine of ¥1.8 million last month and four others have had their suspended prison terms finalized.

In handing down the sentence, which was suspended for five years, presiding Judge Harumitsu Mori described Ojima as lacking both a sense of responsibility and judgment.

"The defendant had the obligation as the chief executive of the company to tell his clients the truth," but took the "inexcusable" action of hiding the condos' defects, Mori said.

According to the court, Ojima knew of the fabricated earthquake resistance of Grand Stage Fujisawa, a condo complex in Kanagawa Prefecture, but intentionally delivered the rooms to 11 Huser clients on Oct. 28, 2005.

When the 10-story building was inspected after Aneha's fraud was revealed a month later, it was found to have only 15 percent of the structural integrity required under the Building Standards Law.

The top seven floors of the condo have been razed and the rest of the building is scheduled to be torn down by summer. Residents are planning to rebuild the complex at their own expense.

"The clients of the condo have had their lives torn apart" because of the fraud, Mori said in condemning Ojima.

Yoshihiro Yasuda, Ojima's lawyer, told reporters that the verdict was "wrongful" and his client will appeal the case immediately.

The focus of Ojima's trial was on whether the developer was aware of the building's defects and knowingly sold the slipshod condos to defraud his clients.

Ojima, 54, had told the court that his firm was unaware of the fabrication, pointing out that an approval of a construction inspection agency caused him to believe Grand Stage Fujisawa had the legally required structural strength.

In backing the allegation, his counsel submitted recorded phone calls in which Ojima ordered his employees to halt sales of the complex, following revelations of the data fabrication by Aneha.

Prosecutors, who had demanded a five-year prison term, countered that government-designated inspection agency eHomes Inc. had reported Grand Stage Fujisawa's deficiency to Huser by Oct. 27, 2005.

The court denied that Ojima played an active role in the scheme, acknowledging that the scandal was instead rooted in Aneha's acts of fabricating quake-resistance data of the buildings.

But Mori judged that Ojima knew of the fabrication and that Huser would profit if the details remained concealed from his clients, while adding that the defendant had shown no signs of remorse for the crimes he committed.

Ojima was arrested in May 2006 after Huser was probed in the investigation into the Aneha case.

Huser built 26 condo complexes, in Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures, using the disgraced architect's fabricated data on quake-resistance.

Aneha was convicted of fabricating building safety data on six condo complexes and hotels between February 2003 and February 2005.

He was also held liable for illegally lending his credentials as a first-class licensed architect to an acquaintance for ¥4.45 million in kickbacks and lying under oath to a Diet committee in December 2005.

Togo Fujita, head of eHomes, two executives of the now-bankrupt, Kumamoto-based Kimura Construction Co. and another architect have all been convicted and given suspended prison terms for their connection to the case or other violations of the Building Standards Law.

Stricter regulations for building permits were imposed in June following the case, and the housing industry is now in a slump.



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