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Man in Japan Gets $358k COVID-Relief Error, Gambles It All, Now Missing

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Posted on: May 17, 2022, 04:56h. 

Last updated on: May 17, 2022, 05:51h.

A Japanese man who mistakenly received 46.3 million yen (US$358,140) in Covid-19 relief funds has blown all the money on black market online gambling sites, according to his lawyer.

Abu COVID-Relief
Take a bow: Abu Mayor Norihiko Hanada, left, and another municipal official apologize for dropping the ball on the town’s COVID-19 financial aid package. (Image: i.Feng.com)

Officials in the southern town of Abu, Yamaguchi Prefecture, inadvertently sent the unnamed man a payment that was intended for distribution among 463 households, reports The Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s biggest national newspapers.

This was a 100,000-yen (US$772) financial aid package designed to help low-income families during the pandemic. But the 24-year-old man got the lot, and spent the lot.

The town has since made good on the relief payments to the 462 other households.

‘I Will Pay’

The blunder occurred on April 8 and was quickly spotted by officials. Initially, the man voluntarily agreed to be questioned by police. But he told them returning the money could prove tricky.

“I don’t currently have the money and I don’t have anything with property-value at hand,” he explained, according to his lawyer.

“It’s actually difficult to return it,” he added, but he vowed to take responsibility. “I’ve already moved the money. It can’t be returned. It cannot be undone. I will not run. I will pay for my crime,” he reportedly said.

He immediately went on the lam.

On May 12, municipal officials sued the man in the Yamaguchi District Court, demanding the return of the funds.

We will do our utmost to take back the large amount of public money that is important for our residents,” said Mayor Norihiko Hanada, according to the Shimbun. Hanada apologized to residents for the banking error that led to the man’s illicit windfall, as he bowed deeply in front of media.

Follow the Money

The mayor said the mistake occurred when staff sent a file containing the distribution list to the bank. But it only included the total amount of the subsidy and the name of the first person on the list.

While the recipient has not been identified by Japanese media, it’s a good bet that his name occurs very early on in the Japanese alphabet.

Meanwhile, local police have launched a criminal investigation. This revealed that more than 600,000 yen (US$46,000) was withdrawn from the man’s account the day he received the money. He subsequently withdrew roughly the same amount every day for about two weeks, according to local media reports.

Officials said the man was a newcomer to Abu, having moved to the town in October 2020. He lived alone and worked at a local store. He resigned from his job in April.

It’s unclear whether the unexpected appearance of an entire town’s Covid-relief package in his personal account was a factor in this decision.

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