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Tearful former dot-com star pleads innocence in high-profile Japan trial

Tearful former dot-com star pleads innocence in high-profile Japan trial

Former dot-com mogul Takafumi Horie tearfully asserted his innocence Friday in a Japanese courtroom, accusing prosecutors of seeking his downfall through trumped up charges and targeting him as a famous businessman.
Following closing defense arguments at Tokyo District Court, Horie, 34, founder of Internet investor and services company Livedoor Co., wiped away a tear as he asked the judge to give his case a fair listening.
"I found this frightening," he said, choking up. "I've been working hard, and it happened so suddenly and without any warning."
Last year's raid on his company, his subsequent arrest on charges of securities laws violations and 95-day incarceration had come as a total shock to him, Horie said.
Clad in a dark suit and tie that contrasted with his usual sweatshirt attire, Horie told the court prosecutors were determined to convict him, no matter what. He said he should have been questioned first by securities officials, which is standard with suspected white-collar wrongdoing in Japan.
In Japanese trials, the judge asks defendants if they wish to speak after the prosecutor and defense closing arguments are over. Some defendants speak but usually they say a line or two. It is unusual for a defendant to speak for several minutes as Horie did.
During the highly publicized trial, prosecutors have described a complex scheme of dummy companies and stock splits they say Horie directed to inflate Livedoor earnings and share prices.
But Horie said he was framed. He accused prosecutors of not being after the truth but rather after punishing someone famous whom they were determined to bring down.
"People who wish to take up the challenge of setting up new businesses are going to be discouraged," he said.
Prosecutors have demanded a four-year prison term for Horie. His verdict and sentencing will be handed down March 16, the court said Friday.
Horie's trial has drawn widespread media attention here because the outspoken millionaire, a celebrity prior to his arrest, had grown into a symbol of new entrepreneurship in Japan.
Horie was known for his cocky flamboyance in a culture dominated by drab, old-fashioned executives, and fascinated the public with his flashy buyout attempts of a professional baseball club and a media conglomerate.
Livedoor, which operated an Internet portal and offered Web-related services, rose from an unknown startup to become a household name, drawing a large number of individual investors, partly because of Horie's fame. Individual investors, many of them amateurs at the stock market, took big losses when Livedoor shares nose-dived when Horie ran into legal trouble.
Another reason the trial has drawn attention is that Horie has pleaded not guilty _ a rare move in Japanese criminal trials. Many suspects sign confessions in advance, sometimes to win lighter sentences. Nearly all criminal trials in Japan end with guilty verdicts.
Still, Horie's case comes at a time when this nation is trying to reform its court system, planning to introduce jury trials for serious criminal cases in 2009. Now, a panel of judges reaches a verdict.
In the past, many have questioned the fairness of Japan's court system. A new movie by Masayuki Suo, the director of "Shall We Dance," which became a Hollywood remake, documents the tribulations of an innocent man who mistakenly becomes charged with being a groper on a train.
In closing arguments that preceded Horie's remarks, Yasuyuki Takai, his chief defense lawyer, compared Horie's case to a historical Japanese case in which businessmen were charged with false crimes related to alleged stock manipulation.
Takai also said the dummy funds in the prosecutors' charges weren't set up at Horie's bidding but were instead used by former Livedoor Chief Financial Officer Ryoji Miyauchi and a colleague to divert money from Livedoor for their personal gain.
Miyauchi, who has pleaded guilty in a separate trial, is a key prosecution witness and has testified that Horie orchestrated the schemes.
Takai accused prosecutors of forsaking their duty in choosing not to investigate Miyauchi and others who he said were stealing from Livedoor. They ignored the facts and used Miyauchi's testimony to back their own scenario for framing his client, Takai said.
He also said the allegations should have been examined under accounting standards, and it would have been clear the alleged "dummies" weren't illegal.
"The defendant is innocent," Takai said. "The prosecutors have done nothing to prove their case."


Updated : 2021-07-31 16:50 GMT+08:00