In Japan’s First Plea Bargain Case, Tokyo High Court Imposes $23,300 Fine on Former Mitsubishi Executive for Bribery

On July 21, the High Court in Tokyo imposed a ¥2.5 million (US $23,309) fine on Satoshi Uchida, a former executive of the Japanese power-plant construction company Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Ltd. (MHPS), for his role in bribing a senior Thai official in a power plant project in Thailand.  In this case – the first in Japan involving a corporate plea bargain, with MHPS — the Tokyo District Court in September 2019 had sentenced Uchida to 18 months in prison, suspended for three years, for conspiring with two subordinates in charge of logistics to bribe the Thai official, who was in the Thai Ministry of Transport.

According to the Japan Times, in February 2015 the two subordinates paid 11 million baht ($347,000) to the Thai official, “who informed them the company had failed to meet necessary conditions for unloading cargo.”  The High Court evidently concluded that Uchida, who had approved the bribery, “was in a position to stop the two from bribing [the] official . . . but failed to do so.”

In Uchida’s case, the High Court found that the testimony of the subordinates, who had already been convicted of bribing the Thai official, was not credible.  In the Court’s words, Uchida “was consistently hesitant and urging them to come up with alternatives. The district court ruling . . . leaves reasonable doubt.”  Accordingly, it nullified the suspended sentence and imposed the fine.

Note: This ruling by the Tokyo High Court is significant for three reasons.  First, it involves the first appellate ruling in this first plea-bargain case under the revised Japanese Criminal Procedure Code.

Second, it establishes a precedent for imposing actual financial sanctions on Japanese executives convicted of foreign bribery.  Even if the amount of the fine is a vanishingly small fraction of the 30 billion baht contract that MHPS was awarded in 2013, that precedent should send a message to corporate executives that approving foreign bribery can have real consequences.  It also should send a message to other Japanese courts that future sentencings in such cases must do more than virtually absolve convicted defendants.

Finally, it should provide some added incentive for the Japanese Public Prosecution Office, which reportedly has been cautious about using its plea-bargaining authority, to pursue foreign-bribery cases.  Last year, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Working Group on Bribery admonished Japan about stepping up enforcement of its foreign-bribery laws.  Pursuing more criminal-plea resolutions with leading companies could help in demonstrating Japan’s commitment to do so.

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