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SOCIETY > Crime

Suspect in COVID subsidy fraud fled as scheme began to unravel

  • June 7, 2022
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 6:27 p.m.
  • English Press

A 47-year-old man wanted by police over pandemic subsidy fraud left Japan apparently to raise money overseas to appease his collaborators before his part in the scheme became known to authorities.

 
Mitsuhiro Taniguchi has been placed on the international wanted list by Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department on suspicion of fraudulently receiving government subsidies for small businesses struggling under the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
The total amount of the subsidies received is estimated at 960 million yen ($7.38 million).
 
Taniguchi’s whereabouts remain unknown after he left Japan for Indonesia in October 2020, according to investigative sources.
 
A man who spoke with Taniguchi about two months before his departure said the suspect had repeatedly filed faked applications for subsidies by colluding with his acquaintances.
 
Such fraudulent applications submitted by Taniguchi’s group, including his family members, is believed to have totaled 1,780 since the government began accepting applications in May 2020.
 
The group used information obtained from participants of seminars he held on the subsidy, including copies of their IDs, bank account information and copies of tax returns. At the time he was a representative of a Tokyo company operating restaurants.
 
Up to 1 million yen was paid to applicants for the government program. Taniguchi and other members were handed up to hundreds of thousands of yen in case after case as kickbacks, according to the investigative sources.
 
But after late July that year, many of the applications were delayed in being approved, leading to a sharp rise in complaints from the collaborators, according to the man.
 
The confederates were apparently angry because they could not collect the subsidies despite having paid a kickback to the group in advance.
 
“The situation grew out of control,” the man quoted Taniguchi as saying in reference to the monetary dispute.
 
Tax returns that were fabricated to apply for the subsidies contained almost identical information concerning income and other items although the names and birthdates of the applicants were altered.
 
Taniguchi said the authorities may have begun suspecting the authenticity of the applications, coupled with the fact that the group filed a large number of them on numerous occasions, according to the man.
 
Subsequently, the man said that Taniguchi asked him to introduce an acquaintance who is running a successful business in Indonesia.
 
The suspect apparently sought to resolve the problems with the co-conspirators by raising funds in Indonesia through his acquaintance’s contacts there.
 
The Metropolitan Police Department believes that the 960 million yen in subsidies had been paid out for 960 of the 1,780 applications.
 
Taniguchi apparently became concerned that he could become the target of a police investigation as he learned that investigators were questioning a minor whose application his group was involved with.
 

On May 30, Tokyo police arrested three members of Taniguchi’s family including his ex-wife and her two sons on suspicion of fraud.

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