Tokyo: Disgraced dotcom tycoon Takafumi Horie was sentenced on 16 March to two and a half years in prison over a fraud scandal that also put Japan’s new generation of free-wheeling capitalists on trial.
The flamboyant 34-year-old entrepreneur, who at the height of his fame boasted he could take over Sony, was accused of conspiring to falsely report profits to hide losses at his once high-flying Livedoor firm.
The spectacular fall from grace for the former media darling gripped the nation and briefly sent the Tokyo stock market into freefall last year, forcing Asia’s largest bourse to close early for the first time.
The brash tycoon, who famously wore a T-shirt to negotiate with men in suits and drove a Ferrari, has called his trial revenge by a rattled establishment. Prosecutors had sought a four-year prison term.
He built one of Japan’s top Internet empires with an aggressive expansion drive, including high-profile but unsuccessful bids for Fuji, the nation’s most watched TV network, and a professional baseball team.
Horie also ran but failed to win a seat in parliament, with the blessing of then prime minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Four other Livedoor executives admitted to fraud allegations but Horie steadfastly insisted on his innocence, an unusual practice in Japan, which has a near 100-percent conviction rate.
“It was an unexpected sentence as I thought a jail term was impossible, and so did Mr Horie,” said Yasuyuki Takai, Horie’s lead attorney.
Horie and Livedoor as a company were accused of falsely reporting a pre-tax profit of some five billion yen (43 million dollars) for the year to September 2004 to hide actual losses of 310 million yen.
The company, which has deposed Horie, will hear its own fate next week. It issued a statement saying it accepted the ruling and would work “to ensure strict compliance with the law”.