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Former Ginowan Mayor pleads guilty, 2-year sentence demanded

Date Posted: 2003-06-01

The former mayor of Ginowan, charged with receiving illegal contributions during his last reelection campaign, has reversed course and pleaded guilty. Prosecutors demanded a two-year prison sentence this week for Morimitsu Higa during the opening day of his trial. Higa was accused of receiving illegal financial contributions from several local construction companies. He was forced to resign from his post as mayor March 4 after a police investigation into his campaign irregularities.

Higa initially denied all accusations, but changed his plea to guilty shortly before the trial. In addition to the prison sentence, the prosecutors are demanding a fine of 5 million. Prosecutors claim Higa had collected a total of 21.7 million in illegal contributions from several local construction companies before his 2002 re-election bid. He allegedly promised public construction contracts to the companies in exchange to their donations.

During the police investigation he initially denied any knowledge about the contributions, and claimed his supporters had collected the money without his consent. He later changed his story and claimed he did not remember any details of the events.

Higa is also accused of making false official written statements concerning the contributions, claiming that they were donations to the Okinawa Chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party instead of his re-election campaign committee.

At the hearing, the presiding judge asked Higa if the statements made by the prosecutors were true and correct. Higa answered "Yes, they're correct."

Higa's indictment and confession effectively have ended his 44-year career in local politics. It has also thrown a monkey wrench into the government's plan to move the MCAS Futenma functions to a planned new base to be constructed off Camp Schwab. Since Higa's arrest, Ginowan elected a new mayor who is adamantly insisting that the base be moved completely out of Okinawa Prefecture.

Asked by the court why he resigned, Higa answered that "I resigned because of the wide publicity of this case has caused citizens to distrust our political process and the working of our government. I feel that I must do everything I can to maintain the Ginowan residents' confidence to their government." Higa's next court appearance is set for June 11.

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