Japan's Richest Man, Worth U.S. $5.4 Billion, Dies at 76

Japan's richest man, Yasuo Takei, who rose to fame as founder of consumer credit company Takefuji Corp. but retired in shame after a wiretapping scandal, has died, a company spokesman said Friday. He was 76.

Takei died of liver failure at his home in Tokyo on Thursday, the Tokyo-based Takefuji Corp. said in a statement.

Takei, 76, was listed as Japan's richest man, along with his family, in this year's Forbes magazine listing of the world's billionaires, with assets of U.S. $5.4 billion. But Takei's reputation was tarnished in 2004 by his conviction on charges of ordering the wiretapping of a journalist who had written articles criticizing his company.

Takei turned to illegal snooping after the critical articles triggered a decline in his company's share price, making him suspect someone was working behind the scenes to discredit the company, the Tokyo District Court ruled.

Takei was sentenced to three years in prison, suspended for four years, and his company, one of Japan's biggest consumer loan corporations, was fined 1 million yen (U.S. $8,700; euro6,765).

After the ruling, Takefuji issued a statement apologizing for the trouble it caused to customers and shareholders. The company promised to prevent a recurrence.

A native of Fukaya, a city just outside Tokyo, Takei founded Takefuji's predecessor company, Fuji Shoji, in 1966, and renamed it Takefuji in 1974. Under his leadership, Takefuji became the country's consumer loan industry leader.

Takei retired from the company's chairmanship in 2003.

Takei is survived by his wife, Hiroko. Other surviving members of his family were not disclosed at the request of his relatives, Takefuji spokesman Hiroshi Kaneko said.

A private funeral was planned on an unspecified date.