Life term given for Kobe arson attacks



KOBE--The district court here Monday sentenced a 48-year-old former company executive to life in prison for instigating arson attacks at two telephone dating clubs in Kobe that killed four people and injured four others in March 2000.

Presiding Judge Makoto Okada ruled that Akihiro Sakamoto had ordered three men to toss firebombs into the two establishments in the city's Chuo Ward, setting them both ablaze.

Four customers at one club died and three other people suffered injuries. An employee at the other nightspot was injured.

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Sakamoto.

According to the ruling, Sakamoto was asked by Kayoko Nakai, 67, who at the time operated a telephone dating club, to obstruct business at the two rival clubs belonging to the Rinrin House group, also a phone dating club service.

In response, Sakamoto instructed three men to hurl firebombs into the clubs early in the morning of March 2, 2000, the ruling said.

Nakai was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison by the Kobe District Court in November 2007. She has appealed that sentence.

Two of the three men who tossed the firebombs are currently serving life sentences. A third individual who acted as the driver of their getaway car was arrested in July.

Sakamoto had pleaded not guilty. He claimed he had only told the three to "obstruct business for two or three days" and did not explicitly instruct them to throw Molotov cocktails.

Meanwhile, judge Okada ruled that Sakamoto was not guilty in connection with a separate shooting attack on a police station in Hiroshima in 2004.

In that case, Sakamoto was accused of conspiring with others to fire a single gunshot into the Hiroshima-Higashi Police Station.(IHT/Asahi: December 9,2008)