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Last Updated: Friday, 16 March 2007, 01:28 GMT
Livedoor's Horie fights back to the end
By Chris Hogg
BBC Tokyo Correspondent

Takafumi Horie
34-year-old Mr Horie says he was singled out
Takafumi Horie was a brash young internet entrepreneur.

A standard bearer for the "new Japan", who was brought down, he claims, by the conservative forces of the "old Japan" - the Japanese business establishment.

In January 2006, prosecutors raided the offices of his company, Livedoor.

As the news helicopters circled overhead, he was led away for questioning and what turned out to be a lengthy confinement ahead of his trial.

The shock waves were huge.

Mr Horie liked to style himself as a pioneer of a bold new style of Japanese capitalism.

This very public shaming of the popular dotcom mogul led to panic in the financial markets.

Japan's Stock Exchange had to be shut down.

Its systems could not cope as thousands of investors, who had been inspired by Mr Horie, tried to take their money out of the market.

Appeal likely

Mr Horie was charged and tried for falsifying Livedoor's accounts for one financial year and for spreading false information to the market during a deal in 2004.

Now a court has found him guilty, and sentenced him to two-and-a-half years in prison. There is now likely to be an appeal.

Securing an interview with Mr Horie is not easy.

His lawyers demand the right to check every quote used.

They need to be careful, they argue, that everything he says is accurately reported, in case it is used as evidence at a later date.

Value judgement

Days before the court gave its verdict, the man himself was in combative mood as he sat in his lawyers' office defending himself against the prosecutors' charges.

The Horie affair reversed, to a certain extent, the trend to give larger responsibilities to young people
Yoko Fukumoto
Mainichi Shimbun

He denied that he spread false information to the money markets.

"Our claim is that what we did is not illegal," he told the BBC News website.

"In simple terms, they accuse us of saying that a company is worth 400m yen, when it is actually worth only 100m yen. Well, who decides that company is worth just 100m yen in the first place?"

On the second count of falsifying accounts, his explanation is less clear-cut.

He admitted that some manipulation of the company's books did take place, although he denied it was to the extent that the prosecutors alleged.

However, he was clear that it was not done with his knowledge.

Whereas other staff members have admitted wrongdoing, Mr Horie insisted that there was no evidence to prove that he was told about it or consented to the practice.

"I trusted my staff, and if they told me those were the sales figures, there was no reason for me to think they were made up," he said.

"That's the reason why there are audits. If the professional auditors couldn't detect it, how could non-professional people detect it? I am not responsible."

Despondent youth

Mr Horie insisted he was the victim of malice and that prosecutors, acting on a tip-off, targeted him because they wanted to make an example of him.

I don't regret anything, but I don't want to be arrested again
Takafumi Horie

"When you are famous, some people get jealous and grass you up," he said.

"They offer biased information."

Throughout the interview, Mr Horie's argument seemed not to be that his business practices were whiter than white, but that he was singled out, because of his fame, for punishment for activities that go on throughout the Japanese business world.

Commentators argue that to many younger entrepreneurs, the downfall of Mr Horie, who represented an alternative to the traditional role of the "salaryman", has led to disappointment.

"The Horie affair reversed, to a certain extent, the trend to give larger responsibilities to young people," argues Yoko Fukumoto, business correspondent of the Mainichi Shimbun.

"It has given the younger generation a sense of despondency, making them feel that the law is not applied fairly in this society."

Conservative cooking

Martin Schulz from the Fujitsu Research Institute agrees that "outsiders" such as Mr Horie, who look for opportunities in Japan's markets, are often labelled as potential violators of loopholes.

But he believes the regulators are becoming more active in preventing and punishing fraud.

"In the future, corporate scandals won't be solved by bowing deeply any more," he says.

Patrick Mohr, a strategist at Nikko Citigroup, thinks the Horie case will at the very least make companies more wary of the temptation to "cook the books" in future.

"This case, as well as the numerous accounting and bid-rigging cases which have come to light recently, appear to be sending a very strong message to boardrooms across the country that it is best to err on the side of conservatism when it comes to accounting regulations," says Mr Mohr.

Not so hard

So as Mr Horie awaited his fate, what lessons had he learnt?

"Trying too hard increases your risk of being accused of wrongdoing," he said. "I don't regret anything, but I don't want to be arrested again.

"I don't ever want to go back to that detention centre," he added. "To avoid that, I must not try so hard."

It is hard to know whether or not he really meant it.

My suspicion is Mr Horie was being ironic.

Clearly he was still bitter about what he sees as a society where those who rock the boat are slapped down.

Mr Horie is not giving up.




SEE ALSO
Fund head denies Livedoor charges
01 Dec 06 |  Business
Livedoor's Horie pleads innocence
04 Sep 06 |  Business
Top Japanese fund manager charged
23 Jun 06 |  Business
Livedoor trial under way in Tokyo
26 May 06 |  Business
Livedoor chief Horie is charged
13 Feb 06 |  Business
Livedoor chief Horie steps down
24 Jan 06 |  Business

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