A former representative of a major Japanese egg producer was sentenced Wednesday to 20 months in prison, suspended for four years, for bribing a former farm minister to seek favors for egg farmers.

The Tokyo District Court found Yoshiki Akita, the former head of Akita Foods Co. in the western Japanese prefecture of Hiroshima, guilty of providing a total of 5 million yen ($44,700) to Takamori Yoshikawa, then agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister.

Photo taken July 4, 2020, shows major egg producer Akita Foods Co.'s head office in the Hiroshima Prefecture city of Fukuyama in western Japan. (Kyodo)

The court acknowledged that Akita, 87, handed the cash to Yoshikawa between November 2018 and August 2019 at a Tokyo hotel and the minister's office, in the hope that the farm ministry would oppose the implementation of strict international animal welfare standards and expand a government program to cover farmers' losses in the event egg prices fell sharply.

Prosecutors said during the trial Akita was concerned that such standards would raise the cost of keeping animals.

In return for the cash, the ministry held meetings with egg farmers over the standards, with lawmakers sometimes present.

In handing down the ruling, Presiding Judge Katsuko Mukai said the case "seriously damaged public trust in farming governance and national politics."

Akita was also found guilty of buying tickets worth a total of 5.34 million yen in other people's names for fundraising parties held by Yoshikawa and former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai, in violation of the political funds control law.

File photo shows Takamori Yoshikawa, former minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries. (Kyodo)

"The act was self-centered as it was to avoid any disadvantage that could arise if the massive purchases were disclosed," Mukai said, adding the sentence was suspended, in consideration of the defendant's advanced age and his admission of guilt.

With Akita pleading guilty to the charges, his lawyers had called for leniency, claiming he was working for the benefit of the egg industry.

Former farm minister Yoshikawa has pleaded not guilty in his trial. The 70-year-old admitted to receiving the cash but claimed that he had taken it as a "political donation." He stepped down as a lawmaker in December last year.

Meanwhile, Kawai was sentenced in June to three years in prison and a forfeiture of 1.3 million yen in a separate high-profile case over buying votes for his wife Anri in her constituency in Hiroshima Prefecture in a 2019 upper house election.

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