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Japan's Giants accused of salary breach

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's richest baseball team, the Yomiuri Giants, could face an investigation after a newspaper report said they regularly burst the professional league's salary limit between 1997 and 2004.

The Asahi newspaper reported that the Giants paid six players more than the maximum contract of 150 million yen ($1.78 million) to acquire their services.

The total amount paid was reported as 3.6 billion yen.

The Giants denied any wrongdoing, saying in a statement: "The maximum amount (of salary) is not a cap, it is more of a rough guideline. We have broken no rules."

Nippon Professional Baseball told Reuters on Thursday that they were "examining the case and will check everything before making any comment."

Pitcher Koji Uehara, now at the Texas Rangers, is said to have received 500 million yen in 1998, while catcher Shinnosuke Abe got double that figure in 2000, the Asahi claimed.

If proven, it would be the second scandal to rock Japan's most popular team after the firing of general manager Hidetoshi Kiyotake following a blazing public row last November.

Kiyotake was sacked for criticizing Giants chairman Tsuneo Watanabe and so-called interference in the running of the team, the fallout rumbling on in the law courts.

The players said to have benefited financially joined the team between 1993 and 2004 when the draft system let collegiate and amateur players select the club of their choice.

Previous cases of bursting salary limits in Japanese baseball exist, with the Seibu Lions paying over a billion yen in excess contract money in 2007.

The Yokohama BayStars were also reprimanded the same year for splashing out 530 million yen signing pitcher Takumi Nasuno.

($1 = 84.07 yen)

(Reporting by Alastair Himmer; Editing by Patrick Johnston)