Abuses by public servants are inexcusable

It is outrageous that a tax official would fill his own pockets by abusing a support program designed to help small and midsize businesses that have fallen into hardship due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Metropolitan Police Department has arrested a Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau official, a former employee of Daiwa Securities Co. and five others on suspicion of fraud involving government COVID-19 subsidies. They are suspected of defrauding the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency of ¥1 million in 2020, using the name of a then 17-year-old boy.

The group is also believed to have used the names of high school and university students to fraudulently receive a total of about ¥200 million, most of which was invested in cryptocurrency. They allegedly told the students that what they were doing was not a crime and kept all the benefits for themselves.

It was a malicious ploy to take advantage of young people’s immaturity and involve them in crimes.

The target of the fraud was a subsidy program intended to help business owners and others whose incomes were drastically reduced in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic to sustain their businesses. In order to provide the benefits quickly, a simple application process was adopted, requiring only a tax return document and an identification card.

A tax official familiar with taxation and administrative procedures is alleged to have falsified tax return documents. It is inexcusable that a member of an organization responsible for tax collection abused his knowledge for personal gain.

In addition to this person, a former official of the Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau was also arrested. Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki said, “I would like to apologize.” The lack of ethics on the part of these officials is astonishing. It is necessary to investigate the circumstances and causes, and to devise measures to prevent a recurrence.

Former career bureaucrats of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, among others, have also been found guilty of fraudulently receiving COVID-related government benefits. The coronavirus pandemic has forced many people to endure hardship. Public trust in the government has been severely damaged by the wrongdoings of public servants who have taken advantage of systems designed to help people facing hardships.

A case has also been uncovered recently of a woman and her sons who were allegedly involved in defrauding a subsidy scheme. The woman and her two sons have been arrested; the woman’s ex-husband has left the country and has been put on a wanted list. It is estimated that they were involved in approximately 960 cases of fraudulent payments totaling nearly ¥1 billion.

There have been 4.4 million applications for the “sustaining business subsidy program,” and ¥5.5 trillion has been provided. Fraud has been uncovered in 3,200 cases nationwide, which means as much as ¥3.2 billion has been swindled.

This may not be the end of the story. The police have to keep a close eye on irregular payouts, among other things, and severely crack down on cases of fraud.

As the police continue to uncover cases, a number of people who filed fraudulent or erroneous applications are returning the money they received. It is said that if they voluntarily return the money, they will not be required to pay an additional amount. Such individuals should notify the government and promptly return what they have received.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 7, 2022)