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3 men involved in massive gold bar theft in 2016 get jail terms

In this May 22, 2017 file photo, one of the suspects in the July 2016 theft of gold bars worth 750 million yen ($6.7 million) is pictured at JR Hakata Station in Fukuoka, on his way to being sent to local police. (Kyodo)

FUKUOKA (Kyodo) -- A Japanese court on Monday sentenced three men to up to seven years in prison over the theft of gold bars worth 750 million yen ($6.8 million) in July 2016 in the southwestern Japan city of Fukuoka.

The Fukuoka District Court ordered seven years in prison for Tomonori Shiraishi, 36, and five years and a half for Takahiro Shirane, 28, and Takumi Uchida, 26.

Prosecutors had sought a nine-years term for Shiraishi and eight years for Shirane and Uchida. The three pleaded not guilty arguing that there was a prior arrangement to transport the gold.

According to indictments, two men carrying the gold bars in attache cases to a cash-for-gold store near Hakata railway station were approached by several men, including the three defendants, wearing fake police uniforms.

The gang stole the gold bars, which weighed about 160 kilograms, after telling the two men the gold bars had to be inspected at a police station because they were suspected of having been smuggled into Japan.

In handing down the ruling, Presiding Judge Koji Hiratsuka dismissed the defendants' claim, concluding that as they were disguised as police officers and fled by car it was premeditated theft.

"It was a planned, systematically committed crime," Hiratsuka said. "The financial damage is large and it is malicious."

While the prison terms were justified given the financial damage and maliciousness of the crime, Hiratsuka also said the three men followed directions of two others and did not play principal roles.

A total of seven people related to the theft were indicted. A ruling for Kazuki Noguchi, 43, and his brother Naoki, 45, who are believed to have been the key culprits, is scheduled Tuesday.

During the investigation, a police officer in Aichi Prefecture was suspected of having leaked information about the police investigation into the gold theft to an acquaintance of Kazuki Noguchi, who lived in Aichi at the time.

But the Aichi police concluded in September 2018 following an internal probe that no leaks related to the theft were made.

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