Horie maintains innocence at final hearing

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TOKYO -- Fallen Internet mogul Takafumi Horie tearfully maintained his innocence Friday at the final hearing in his fraud case at the Tokyo District Court, telling reporters, "I am confident of a 'not guilty' ruling."

The court will issue its verdict March 16. Prosecutors are asking for a four-year prison term for the 34-year-old Horie, who stands accused of manipulating the financial figures of his Internet company Livedoor Co. and releasing false information concerning the acquisition of a publishing house by a subsidiary in order to increase the value of its stock.

In their final arguments, prosecutors said that Horie had "deceived many investors" for personal gain and "avoided responsibility by trying to lay the blame on subordinates."

The defense responded by suggesting that confessions from senior members of the company had been coerced and that the prosecution had made "arbitrary assesments while ignoring objective evidence" which showed there had been no criminal acts.

Horie was once seen as the new face of Japanese business until his arrest in January 2006. He was released on bail three months later, though investors quickly distanced themselves from Livedoor. The company was subsequently removed from the Tokyo Stock Exchange and parts of the sprawling empire have since been sold off.

At its zenith, Livedoor's companies dealt in everything from used cars to financial services, though Horie aroused resentment in traditional corporate circles over some of his business maneuvers. One of the fiercest battles was over control of Fuji Television, Japan's largest independent broadcaste.

Authorities also charged three of Horie's key executives with similar fraud charges, sparking bitter courtroom showdowns as they testified against their former boss.
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