A western Japan town that mistakenly deposited 46.3 million yen about 363,000 in COVID 19 relief money into a resident's account did not apply to freeze the account before the man withdrew all the money and allegedly gambled it away, according to interviews with town officials.
The man, 24 year-old unemployed resident of Sho Taguchi, was arrested by police on suspicion of computer fraud. He is accused of using an online payment service on his phone to spend money on April 12 despite knowing that it had been mistakenly deposited, and gaining illegal profit by transferring 4 million yen into the account of a settlement agency.
The full amount, originally supposed to go to 463 households in the Yamaguchi Prefecture town of Abu, was withdrawn from the man's account over 11 days during which the city took no action, sparking criticism that its response was lax.
According to Yamaguchi Prefectural Police, Taguchi admitted to the allegations, and was quoted as telling investigators that I knew the money was mistakenly deposited, and I moved it to another account. I used it at an online casino. The mistaken deposit was uncovered immediately after the transfer on April 8, when the bank pointed out the error. A city official visited Taguchi in his home on the same day and accompanied him to the bank to have him return the money, but when they arrived at the entrance he refused to do so. The bank sent an official letter to the bank on the same night requesting that it not allow Taguchi to withdraw the money, but it did not take any legal action, such as asking a court to freeze the money in the account.
One bank official said that the protection of customers' financial assets is an absolute must, and we can't freeze a person's account because a local body asks us to do so. If there had been a court order, that would have been different, and if there had been a request for a temporary injunction or other such action at an early stage, things may have been different. The suspect withdrew the full amount over 34 occasions, making withdrawals practically every day from April 8, according to Taguchi's lawyer. On at least one day, over 9 million yen were withdrawn, and by April 18 the balance in the man's account was just 70,000 yen about $550. The money had been transferred into two different accounts, according to investigations by the town. The city sought an injunction to seize the two accounts, but it didn't get the money back. One town official said that at the initial stage when he refused to return the funds, action from lawyers, not just town officials, should have been sought to take a firm response. Norihiko Hanada, mayor of the city of Abu, told reporters in a news conference on May 12. I never thought that something like this could happen. We may have been careless. When speaking to reporters after Taguchi was arrested on May 19 he said: "It is precious public money, so I would like him to return it."