updated 12/21/2005 4:45:30 PM ET 2005-12-21T21:45:30

Police raided the offices of construction and architecture firms Wednesday as part of a widening investigation of buildings erected using falsified earthquake safety data.

The scandal broke last month when architect Hidetsugu Aneha, 48, admitted that under pressure from developers, he had designed buildings that he knew didn’t meet Japan’s strict earthquake codes.

TV video showed several police officers entering the Tokyo branch of Kimura Construction Co. to collect evidence in connection with the investigation.

During testimony in parliament last week, Aneha admitted to covering up potentially catastrophic defects in buildings across Japan since around 1998, when developers, largely Kimura Construction, asked him to cut costs by reducing the amount of steel reinforcements required by building codes.

A Tokyo police spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity because of police rules, said an investigation is under way, but he refused to elaborate.

Public broadcaster NHK said police searched 19 locations, including Kimura Construction’s head office in southwestern prefecture of Kumamoto, and its subsidiary’s Tokyo office, Heisei Design, among others.

Minister vows to punish 'vicious acts'
Kimura Construction had erected 45 buildings, or 60 percent of the buildings in question that were designed by Aneha, NHK said.

Kazuo Kitagawa, minister of land, infrastructure and transport, told a parliamentary committee Wednesday the ministry will severely punish any contractor, builders and developers that conducted “vicious acts.” He did not elaborate.

Earlier this month, the ministry filed a criminal complaint against Aneha and later revoked his architecture license.

On Tuesday, more than 500 police investigators from Tokyo and two neighboring prefectures searched more than 100 locations, including Aneha’s home and his office in Ichikawa, just outside Tokyo, for evidence in the first such raids.

The government has now confirmed 78 hotels and apartment buildings were built using quake data that Aneha used to make flawed buildings appear to meet anti-earthquake construction standards.

Japan’s government has upgraded building standards since a magnitude 7.2 quake killed more than 6,400 people in the western port city of Kobe in 1995.

Japan is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries, sitting atop four tectonic plates.

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