Plea bargaining debuts in Japan in bribery case

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - A plea bargaining agreement has been reached between prosecutors and a Japanese company over an alleged bribery case involving local government officials in Thailand in connection with power plant construction work in the Southeast Asian country, it has been learned.

 It will be the first plea bargaining case in Japan since the system started in June.

 According to a source related to the matter, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office will seek criminal charges against employees of the Japanese company believed to be involved in the scandal on suspicion of violating the Unfair Competition Prevention Law, with the company cooperating with the prosecutors’ investigation. In exchange, the prosecutors office is expected to refrain from indicting the company as a whole, the source said.

 The company that agreed with the prosecutors office is Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, Ltd. (MHPS), a major power generation equipment manufacturer based in Yokohama, the source said.

 It was launched in February 2014 through a merger of thermal power generation sections of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd., and Hitachi, Ltd.

 In 2013, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries won a contract for a power plant construction project in Thailand. MHPS transported materials by sea via a Chinese-affiliated company. But at the time of unloading the materials at a port in southern Thailand, local officials in charge of harbors demanded cash in the guise of a fee for using the pier. In February 2015, MHPS officials in charge of the matter paid about ¥60 million to them, the source said.

 The company learned about the money transaction from an internal whistle-blower. After conducting an in-house investigation, MHPS concluded that the act could violate the Unfair Competition Prevention Law, which prohibits bribing foreign public officials for the reason that it hampers the fairness of international business transactions. The company voluntarily declared the matter to the prosecutors office later in 2015.

 The Tokyo prosecutors office began discussing with the MHPS side about plea bargaining last month. Later, the two sides signed a document stipulating the contents of the agreement based on procedures set out in the revised Criminal Procedure Code. Both sides, the prosecutors and the company, are obliged to carry out the agreement as long as the other side adheres to it.

 The Unfair Competition Prevention Law has a joint punishment provision over bribery of a foreign public official, which covers not only the person who committed the bribery, but also the corporation the person belongs to.

 The statutory penalty for the person who committed bribery is imprisonment of up to five years, a fine of up to ¥5 million, or both. The penalty for a corporation is a fine of up to ¥300 million.

 Power generation equipment of Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems is used widely at power plants in Japan and abroad. The company’s sales volume for the fiscal year that ended in March 2018 was ¥795.5 billion. The company’s spokesman responded to an inquiry by saying, “We have nothing to inform you of at this moment.”

 Plea bargaining is a system in which suspects or other people under investigation provide testimony or evidence to investigative authorities on the crimes of a third party in exchange for decreasing their own criminal punishment.

 The main crimes covered by the system are economic crimes such as bribery and embezzlement, and organized crimes such as remittance scams. Regarding crimes for which corporations may be punished, companies can deal with investigative authorities.

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