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Tycoon Tsutsumi -- from world's richest man to detention cell.

TOKYO, March 3 Kyodo

Property tycoon Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, once listed by Forbes magazine as the world's richest man, is now in detention on suspicion of fraud related to the shares of Seibu Railway Co., whose vast assets helped him climb the financial peaks.

Forbes listed Tsutsumi as the world's richest person for four consecutive years from 1987 to 1990, when Japan's property values were astronomical during the bubble economy.

The magazine estimated Tsutsumi's net worth at $20 billion in 1987 and between $15 billion and $18.9 billion for the other three years

Tsutsumi's net worth, however, had dwindled to about $3 billion in 2004, falling to 159th in Forbes' global ranking.

The fall of Tsutsumi coincides with the severe business environment that the Seibu group's hotel and leisure businesses faced.

Kokudo Corp., a Tokyo-based firm not listed on the stock exchange, controls the Seibu network of railways, the Prince Hotels chain, a professional baseball club, and leisure facilities such as ski and hot-springs resorts.

Tsutsumi resigned as chairman of Seibu Railway in April last year after a payoff scandal involving a corporate racketeer and its executives.

He also resigned from all the posts he held in Kokudo and group firms last October following the revelation of the falsification of financial statements for about 40 years by Seibu Railway.

At their peak, the price of Seibu Railway shares reached 8,000 yen, but plunged to the 400 yen level before being delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange last December.

Tsutsumi became the head of the Seibu group after his father, Yasujiro, died in 1964. Yasujiro Tsutsumi, founder of the Seibu group, was also a member of the House of Representatives and served as lower house speaker from May 1953 to December 1954.

Yoshiaki Tsutsumi emerged as a young entrepreneur in 1956 when the Karuizawa Skate Center, which he planned while he was a student at Waseda University, opened in the summer resort town of Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture where his father had built a number of vacation houses.

He planned the ice-skating rink after he was asked by his father to come up with ways to attract tourists to Karuizawa in the winter.

The skate center once attracted 250 bus loads at a time of young people from Tokyo for an overnight stay, but few people use the facility these days.

Building on the success of Karuizawa's ice-skating facility, Tsutsumi in 1961 planned a ski resort with a hotel in the Naeba area in Niigata Prefecture. He later expanded the Prince Hotels chain nationwide and opened a number of ski and leisure resorts.

In 1978, Tsutsumi launched the Seibu Lions baseball club in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture.

He headed the Japan Olympic Committee from August 1989 to 1990, and was its honorary chairman until he resigned last October.

In Tokyo's Minato Ward, the construction of the Tokyo Prince Hotel Park Tower, probably the last big project handled by Tsutsumi, is currently under way, and the hotel is to be opened in April.

But there are rumors that the hotel may be sold after completion due to the worsening business condition of Kokudo.
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Publication:Japan Weekly Monitor
Date:Mar 7, 2005
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