Former moneyman backtracks on the stand

Onetime investment guru Yoshiaki Murakami retracted an earlier admission of guilt at his trial for alleged insider trading in the Livedoor scandal got under way in Tokyo on Thursday.

Speaking on the witness stand at Tokyo District Court, Murakami admitted he had heard former Livedoor prexy Takafumi Horie discuss his plans to take a controlling stake in radio broadcaster Nippon Broadcasting, but “I assumed it was just typical Livedoor image polishing,” he added.

On June 5, the day of his arrest, an emotional Murakami told reporters that he had received insider information from former Internet powerhouse Livedoor.

Undisputed is the fact that Murakami’s company, MAC Asset Management, bought 1.93 million Nippon Broadcasting shares from November 2004 through January 2005, before news of Livedoor’s takeover attempt broke.

Prosecutors charge that Murakami conspired with Horie, urging him to buy Nippon Broadcasting shares.

In February 2005, Livedoor grabbed a 35% stake in the radio broadcaster, with a chunk of the stock coming from MAC, which reaped a ¥3 billion ($25.9 million) profit on the deal.

Livedoor’s real target, however, was Nippon parent company Fuji TV. Horie’s aim was to take over the web, though he settled for a tie-up agreement, with Fuji buying a 12.75% stake in Livedoor for $379 million.

Murakami’s plea of innocence is highly unusual in Japan, where defendants in criminal cases nearly always enter a guilty plea after pretrial negotiations with prosecutors.

If the court decides otherwise, he could find himself behind bars for five years and paying a $43,103 fine.

Horie is also on trial on charges of falsifying corporate information to boost Livedoor’s share price. The former Livedoor prexy has also pleaded innocent.

Before their busts, Murakami and Horie were media darlings whose aggressive, Western-style business methods and flamboyant personal styles were held up as models for Japanese entrepreneurs.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more