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    Accountability

    It pays to diversify, apparently. Indications are now that Hidetsugu Aneha not only falsified earthquake resistance data for buildings but also fraudulently lent his name and credentials to an unqualified designer…who used them to falsify earthquake resistance data on buildings he designed:

    Investigators believe the designer, who did not have an architect’s license, asked Aneha to lend his name and used Aneha’s seal to stamp construction documents he submitted to the municipal government.

    In return for lending his name, Aneha allegedly received about 20 percent of the design fees paid by the real estate company–about 10 million yen–from the designer, the sources said.

    Using Aneha’s name, the designer drew blueprints for nine buildings, including condos, and five wooden houses. Seismic data for six of them were fabricated, the sources said.

    Aneha wasn’t the only party to branch out into more than one form of fraud, says the Asahi:

    Police on Monday questioned executives of Kimura Construction Co. on suspicion the company, embroiled in the scandal over fake quake-resistance reports, had falsified financial statements for several years.

    Under the construction industry law, companies that undertake public works projects are required to submit documents that objectively show their business conditions, performances and other factors to the central and prefectural governments.

    Those companies are then ranked based on assessments of their financial conditions and other factors. The scale of public works projects those companies can bid on depends on their rankings.

    And let’s not leave out Huser, the other entity that’s seen the greatest gains in infamy since the scandal broke:

    According to police and other sources, Ojima had a meeting Oct. 27 last year with Aneha and the president of the private inspection company, eHomes Ltd., at Huser’s main office in Tokyo’s Marunouchi district.

    The eHomes president said he could not “issue building inspection certificates for four buildings that had yet to be completed.”

    But, according to sources, Ojima argued, “I think we can somehow manage the situation by applying anti-quake reinforcing and vibration-control methods.”

    The day after the meeting, Huser accepted payments from residents who bought units in the Grand Stage Fujisawa and started procedures for them to move in.

    “When I heard from former architect Aneha that he had ‘reduced’ figures, I knew he meant he reduced (the buildings’) resistance against seismic forces,” Ojima told The Asahi Shimbun. “But I never knew that he had reduced those figures by 70 to 80 percent.”

    The Grand Stage Fujisawa has only 15 percent of the quake-resistance strength required under the Building Standards Law, meaning that it could crumble in a moderately strong earthquake.

    The Aneha scandal isn’t the only somewhat-encouraging sign of a new interest in accountability. This Mainichi English report says that Mitsubishi Motors, defective vehicles from which have been implicated in a parade of fatal accidents over the last dozen or so years, has been ordered to pay damages to the mother of a woman who was killed by a wheel that came off a moving truck in 2002. It also, unusually even for English articles in the Japanese press, contains background helpful for those who don’t live here:

    “Mitsubishi Motors can afford to pay 5.5 million yen [US $50 thousand-ish–SRK] without feeling an ounce of pain,” Aoki said in a telephone interview. “The legal system must work to provide preventive measures.”

    Aoki said Japan’s system for keeping companies in check was so outdated victims of such accidents are usually awarded even less than the damages in Tuesday’s ruling.

    Mitsubishi Motors said it will abide by the ruling and apologized to Okamoto’s family.

    “We will do our utmost as a company to regain trust, strengthen compliance measures and vow to prevent any recurrence,” the company said in a statement.

    The ideas of consumer rights and corporate responsibility are still new in Japan, a conformist, harmony-loving society in which conflicts are avoided and often settled behind the scenes.

    Japan’s first product liability law was passed only in 1994, and damage suits are relatively rare. Companies are rarely required to pay more than a token amount. Even when convicted of criminal wrongdoing, executives of companies are generally handed lenient sentences with no prison terms.

    Does it get more obscene than covering up defects in vehicles and houses used by trusting people? Well, how about if your racket is to screw them out of their life savings?

    Excessive lending has pushed an increasing number of borrowers to bankruptcy or forced them to give up their home or other assets to repay their debts.

    The FSA concluded administrative punishments should be imposed against such lending practices after many vicious cases surfaced at Aiful Corp.

    The FSA on Friday ordered the major consumer loan company to suspend operations at all 1,900 of its outlets for three to 25 days as punishment for overly aggressive debt-collection tactics and other problems.

    The lack of lender liability protection has been an ongoing problem in Japan; given the increase in the percent of aging people who need financial services but don’t really understand how they work, the FSA’s sense of mission is not a moment too soon.

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