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October 27, 2009

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Star actress pleads guilty to drug use

MORE than 6,000 people crowded outside a Tokyo courthouse yesterday as Japanese actress Noriko Sakai pleaded guilty to drug use and prosecutors sought a prison sentence in a trial that has caused a media frenzy.

The 38-year-old Sakai was among the first Japanese actresses to gain popularity in Asia, and her arrest in August threatened to shatter her wholesome image.

The scandal has made headlines for months in Japan, and authorities have said they will crack down on drug use in the entertainment industry.

Prosecutors accused Sakai of inhaling amphetamines in July on the southern island of Amami Oshima, where she went with her husband and their son to view a lunar eclipse. Investigators also found a tiny amount of the drug in her Tokyo condominium. Sakai was arrested after turning herself in, following a weeklong disappearance.

"My husband encouraged me to use (the drug), but it was my own decision. It was a very thoughtless act," the Kyodo News agency quoted Sakai as telling the court.

She is charged with drug use in violation of an anti-stimulant law. The violation carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, though most first violations bring suspended sentences.

Prosecutors yesterday sought 1 1/2 years in prison for Sakai at Tokyo District Court, where more than 6,600 people lined up in the rain for 20 seats to watch, a court official said on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.

A ruling is expected on November 9, the court official said.

After 41 days in custody, Sakai was released last month on 5 million yen (US$55,000) bail.

Her husband is being tried separately on similar charges.

Sakai said she wanted to divorce her husband and make a fresh start, Kyodo reported.

"I must correct myself. I feel miserable," she said, adding that she wants to quit entertainment and study nursing care for the elderly.


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