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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 22, 2006

Former dot-com star says charges are only payback

By Yuri Kageyama
Associated Press

Dressed in a sweatshirt that says "Billionaire Boys Club," Takafumi Horie blamed what he called the old-style bureaucratic power elite in Japan as unfairly targeting him for merely trying to bring about change.

KATSUMI KASAHARA | Associated Press

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TOKYO Former dot-com star Takafumi Horie, who is fighting charges of cooking the books at his startup Livedoor Co., says the old-style bureaucratic power elite is targeting him for rocking the boat.

"I stood out too much," he said in an interview at his lawyer's Tokyo office. "Tackling something new means doing what's not considered yet by the legal system."

Once a media darling who was admired for his bold business deals, Horie is now on trial in Tokyo District Court on charges of violating securities laws. During the interview, he reiterated his innocence, as he's done repeatedly in the courtroom.

Horie, 34, accused prosecutors of concocting a false story in their determination to find defiant outsiders like him as "evil."

Horie was arrested in January after a surprise raid by prosecutors televised live on nationwide TV and was kept in a detention center for three months.

Yoshimi Sato, a spokeswoman for the prosecution, declined to comment yesterday on Horie's interview or his trial. She said the office does not reply to questions from the media about ongoing cases.

But the prosecution will make a statement today and announce what sentence is being sought, as is the standard procedure in Japanese trials. The defense team is expected to give closing arguments in January. The judge gives the verdict and sentencing, usually a few months later.

If convicted, Horie faces up to five years in prison and $42,000 in fines, or both. But a jail term in such a case would be harsh by Japanese standards. Defendants can speak to reporters during their trials in Japan because there is no jury trial here.

Still looking boyish but a bit more pensive than before his arrest, Horie said Wednesday he has no regrets about his past.

Horie, a millionaire, rose to stardom here in 2004 for his attempts to buy a professional baseball team. He appeared often on TV, ran unsuccessfully for a seat in parliament and tried to take over a radio broadcaster to gain managerial influence over media group Fuji Television Network Inc.

But the Japanese media have turned against Horie, depicting him as misguided, greedy and brash.

"Bureaucrats just want people to keep working by the sweat of their brow, without thinking and putting their savings in the bank," he said. "That's the way they think, and there's not much anyone can do about it."

Horie denied he had changed or had been hurt by his run-in with the law.

He hated being cooped up in his jail cell, unable to talk to anyone. And all he could do was read and do push-ups. But he insisted he hadn't lost anything, except maybe for one thing.

"I lost weight," he said with a smile.