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Former Environment Minister Gets Harsh Sentence for Tax Evasion

November 29, 1991

TOKYO (AP) _ A judge on Friday sentenced a former Cabinet minister to 40 months in prison for tax evasion, rejecting his claim that he was driven to it by the enormous pressure on Japanese politicians to raise money.

Toshiyuki Inamura, 56, admitted in April that he evaded $13 million in taxes by hiding $21.6 million in profits from stock deals.

Though many of Japan’s leading politicians have been implicated over the past few years in financial scandals, Inamura is the first since the early 1980s to be sentenced to prison for crimes committed while in office.

Tokyo District Court Judge Shigeru Matsuura said Inamura’s actions ″considerably damage public trust in politicians.″

The former parliament member had asked for leniency, citing the extraordinary pressure on politicians to raise funds as an extenuating circumstance.

But the judge dismissed the argument.

″In today’s society, having a need for money is not limited to the case of a single politician. So it is improper to give special treatment only to politicians and impossible to consider the situation as having necessitated tax evasion.″

Inamura held a Cabinet-level position as head of the Environment Agency in 1986 and 1987. He was elected eight times to Parliament before resigning in January of this year after details of the tax evasion became public.

Though the Inamura affair is not directly related to other scandals that have battered Japan’s top politicians in recent years, his defense emphasized the ″money politics″ that lie behind most of them.

Most parliamentary seats in Japan are contested furiously by several candidates - often from the same party - so that elections usually rest on how many favors each politician can promise for his district. As a result, politicians must constantly raise funds to keep the favors flowing.

In addition, senior legislators hand out money to younger colleagues to guarantee loyalty. Ex-Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu tried but failed to reform the system. The attempt cost him his office last month.

The current prime minister, Kiichi Miyazawa, who himself has been linked to financial impropriety, has not proposed any reforms.

Inamura’s case was tied to a major scandal in the financial community involving Mitsuhiro Kotani, a stock speculator being prosecuted on charges of stock manipulation. Many of Inamura’s stock profits came from information supplied by Kotani.