Japan actress Noriko Sakai convicted of drug use

AP News
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Posted: Nov 09, 2009 8:09 AM

Japanese actress Noriko Sakai, once hugely popular in Asia, was convicted of drug use Monday as thousands of people crowded outside the courthouse in anticipation of the verdict.

The Tokyo District Court sentenced 38-year-old Sakai to 18 months in prison, suspended for three years, for using and possessing drugs, court spokesman Yoshikazu Ishizawa said. He declined to give further details.

More than 3,000 people thronged the courthouse awaiting the ruling.

Sakai was arrested in August after turning herself in following a weeklong disappearance. She disappeared a day after her husband, Yuichi Takaso, 41, was arrested for drug possession and use. The court is set to hand down a verdict on Takaso later this month.

The couple were accused of using amphetamines. The violation carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, though most first violations bring suspended sentences.

Sakai was popular across Asia _ including in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan _ in the 1990s because of her songs and TV dramas.

The drug scandal, which has dominated headlines for months in Japan, shattered Sakai's wholesome image. Her commercial deals, including one with Toyota Motor Corp., were canceled. Her record label, Victor Entertainment, also terminated its contract with the star and pulled all her albums and other products from stores nationwide.

In the wake of Sakai's arrest, Japanese authorities have said they will crack down on drug use in the entertainment industry.