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Thursday, April 24, 2008
Death-penalty foe fined by court
Lawyer who prevented client's asset seizure claims case was aimed at silencing him
By JUN HONGO
The Tokyo High Court on Wednesday overturned a lower court ruling and fined lawyer Yoshihiro Yasuda ¥500,000 for obstructing compulsory seizures of the assets of his client by moneylenders between 1993 and 1996.
The court case has been closely watched because Yasuda, 60, is known as a prominent opponent of capital punishment who earlier led the defense for Shoko Asahara, founder of the Aum Shinrikyo cult.
He was also the chief defense lawyer for a man sentenced to death Tuesday for killing a 23-year-old woman and her 11-month-old daughter in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1999 — a controversial case that drew nationwide attention because the defendant was a minor at the time of the murders.
Yasuda's attorneys in the case against him had argued that the obstruction charges were concocted by prosecutors with a political motivation — as an attempt to intimidate the vocal lawyer and "silence the annoyance."
He immediately appealed to the Supreme Court.
In handing down the ruling, presiding Judge Kohei Ikeda said Yasuda devised a clever scheme for his client — a bankrupt real estate company — to avoid income seizures.
Ikeda said Yasuda was merely an accomplice in the crime, but the judge described his advice as "malicious acts" which ultimately resulted in the obstruction.
"The defendant has continued to deny his involvement with a variety of excuses, and has shown no signs of self-examination," Ikeda said.
According to the verdict, Yasuda conspired with the real estate company's executives and advised them to ask tenants of its buildings to deposit rent in two dummy accounts. The act prevented some ¥200 million from being seized by moneylenders.
Tokyo-based Sun's Corporation Tokyo Ltd. was a major borrower from the failed "jusen" mortgage lenders. Yasuda acknowledged during earlier sessions of the trial that he tried to help his client escape asset seizures by relocating its rent income, but argued that his advice was within the boundaries of the law.
Yasuda and two executives from the real estate company were arrested in 1998 while the lawyer was heading the defense for Asahara's trial. He was held for approximately 10 months following the arrest.
Prosecutors alleged that the transactions were "clearly an attempt to obstruct compulsory seizure" and demanded a two-year prison term.
Yasuda's defense attorneys, however, countered that he was performing his job as a lawyer and advised his client to separate its leasing division accounts to secure jobs and payments for its workers.
"This verdict is extremely politically motivated," lawyer Makoto Iwai told reporters after the ruling. "I am very disappointed."
He said the decision will discourage lawyers from properly carrying out their jobs.
The Tokyo District Court in December 2003 acquitted Yasuda of the charges on the grounds that the lawyer's advice was justifiable and the intention was to help rebuild the failing company. The two executives meanwhile had their suspended prison terms finalized in March 2006.
Yasuda maintained his innocence throughout the trial, while approximately 2,100 lawyers registered as his defense attorneys to back his appeal.