Architect at center of Japan construction scandal blames developers |

Architect at center of Japan construction scandal blames developers

TOKYO – An architect at the center of a major construction scandal admitted Wednesday to covering up potentially catastrophic defects in buildings across Japan, but accused profit-hungry developers of pressuring him to cut corners.Hidetsugu Aneha told a parliamentary committee he began faking earthquake safety data around 1998, when a developer asked him to cut costs by reducing the amount of steel reinforcements to below the compulsory minimum in a Tokyo apartment project.”I was under heavy pressure (from developers), but initially I refused partly because of my pride as a first-class certified architect,” Aneha said, describing an industry in which developers threaten to withdraw business unless architects cut corners.”I had a sick wife who was in and out of a hospital,” he said. “Refusing meant zero income.”The nationally televised interrogation was the latest chapter in a scandal that has sparked anger in one of the world’s most quake-prone countries.Aneha last month acknowledged he faked records to make substandard buildings look like they met Japan’s stringent anti-earthquake requirements.Authorities say at least 71 structures linked to Aneha could collapse in a moderate tremor.Dozens of buildings designed by Aneha have been earmarked for demolition, forcing the relocation of thousands of residents.”You played an important role in building murderous apartments and hotels, causing thousands of people serious trouble,” lawmaker Fumihiro Himori of the opposition Democratic Socialist Party told Aneha.While Aneha has become the scandal’s public face, fears are widespread that it has deep roots in Japan’s construction industry, long dogged by bid-rigging and other corruption.Japan’s government has upgraded building standards since a magnitude-7.2 quake killed more than 6,400 people in the western port city of Kobe in 1995.Developers implicated in the scandal denied any wrongdoing.”We have nothing to do with what Mr. Aneha is talking about,” said Akira Shinozuka, a former branch manager of Kimura Construction, which worked with the architect, told the lower house committee.Shinozuka acknowledged discussing cost cuts with Aneha, but said he had not pressured the architect and had not been aware he was breaking the law.Aneha also called into question the work of private companies that control the building inspection process and enforce Japan’s strict earthquake resistance standards, saying any building structure expert could have easily discovered the fabrications.”I know what I did was wrong, but it is strange that structural professionals could not find it out,” he told lawmakers.The scandal has also called government oversight into question. The government deregulated the inspection process in 1999, leaving the task to private companies. Critics say the government has failed to properly oversee the companies’ operations.Aneha singled out one company, e-Homes, for especially slipshod work, saying, “we could easily get approvals from e-Homes. They weren’t really looking at the documents.”An e-Homes representative has testified the agency’s inspectors were swamped with projects due to chronic understaffing and may have let defective plans slip through. The admission prompted a government review of the country’s building inspection agencies to determine whether problems in the screening process were widespread.Last week, the Land Ministry revoked Aneha’s architect license and filed a criminal complaint against him.The government last week announced a comprehensive aid package for displaced residents, including financial support for relocation and loan arrangements.Vail, Colorado

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