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A former high-ranking Labor Ministry official was found guilty Tuesday of taking bribes, becoming the first former government official to be convicted in connection with the Recruit stocks-for-favors scandal that rocked Japan's political world in the late 1980s.

Takashi Kato, a former vice minister of labor, was sentenced to two years in prison and three years probation and was ordered to pay a fine of $51,000. Kato had been charged with accepting 3,000 pre-flotation shares from Recruit Cosmos Co., a real estate company, in return for influencing government policy for the company's parent firm, Recruit Co.The decision came as the popularity of Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa's Liberal Democratic Party continues to sink amid two new scandals that have surfaced in recent months.

Miyazawa was forced to resign in December 1988 as finance minister and deputy prime minister for his own links with the Recruit affair, and the scandal eventually brought down the cabinet of Noboru Takeshita, who was prime minister at the time.

Kato allegedly made moves to kill legislation that would have tightened restrictions on employment magazines - in which Recruit specializes - in return for the Recruit Cosmos shares, which shot up in value after they were released to the public.