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Govt finds 77 Toyoko hotels altered on sly

Toyoko Inn Co. President Norimasa Nishida looks down at a press conference Monday.

The construction ministry announced Monday that out of 122 hotels operated by Toyoko Inn Co., 77 hotels in Tokyo and 23 prefectures were illegally modified after local governments inspected the completed buildings, according to a ministry survey.

The survey also revealed that the modifications and building designs at 60 Toyoko Inn no-frills hotels in Tokyo and 20 prefectures violated laws, such as the Building Standards Law and a law for making buildings friendly to disabled people.

"It's an extremely despicable matter. Illegal activities were systematically carried out by the company on a routine basis," Construction and Transport Minister Kazuo Kitagawa said at a press conference Monday. "I'd like to closely examine the facts and take a tough approach, including possibly lodging a criminal complaint."

The survey was conducted through the Tokyo metropolitan government and prefectural governments of 37 prefectures where the company's hotels are located.

According to the survey's findings, the Ota Ward, Tokyo-based firm violated the Building Standards Law by converting parking space into guest rooms at 37 hotels, thereby exceeding the legal limit of the buildings' floor space-to-land ratio.

In 18 cases the law for making buildings friendly to the disabled was violated by such means as not reserving parking spaces for disabled people or converting guest rooms designed for them into a conference room or a changing room. In 24 cases, the company breached local governments' ordinances based on the Parking Garage Law. The company violated more than one law or ordinance in 19 cases.

After receiving the survey results, the ministry on Monday asked local governments in municipalities home to the hotels found to be have been illegally modified to issue the company an improvement order based on the Building Standards Law and the law for the disabled as soon as possible.

The ministry also asked those municipalities to take strict measures, including possibly filing a criminal complaint for violating the Building Standards Law, against the company and architects involved in the illegal modifications.

The ministry plans to discuss the matter with the relevant municipalities this week, a step toward making a criminal complaint.

Exceeding the floor space-to-land ratio is punishable by a fine of up to 500,000 yen. If a violator refuses to bring the building into line with the required ratio, they could be imprisoned for up to one year or ordered to pay a fine of up to 3 million yen.

The ministry also will discuss whether the architects involved should be ordered to suspend their business or have their license revoked.


Toyoko Inn president apologizes

Following the ministry's announcement, Toyoko Inn President Norimasa Nishida made a tearful apology at a press conference at the ministry Monday.

He looked at the ground for most of the 40-minute conference, tearfully repeating, "I'm very sorry. I'm responsible for everything," and "I apologize from the bottom of my heart." But he did not provide any specifics when reporters asked him how the illegal activities had begun.

Asked whether he was thinking of resigning, Nishida, 59, said, "Please let me rectify all the hotels [where illegalities took place]," suggesting that he had no plan to step down for the time being.

(Feb. 7, 2006)
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