Tax official, 6 others nabbed over COVID-19 aid fraud in Japan

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau building in Tokyo

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — Tokyo police arrested a group of seven, including a 24-year-old official of the Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau, on fraud charges related to a government COVID-19 relief program, investigative sources said.

The Metropolitan Police Department believes the group swindled the government out of as much as ¥200 million in total in benefits aimed at helping smaller businesses that suffered sharp revenue declines due to the pandemic, by filing false applications in place of some 200 people, according to the sources.

Those arrested also include a 24-year-old former official of the Tokyo taxation bureau and a 27-year-old former official of a major brokerage house.

A 21-year-old university student, also a member of the group, invited classmates and other acquaintances to join the scheme, telling them that they can apply for the benefit money as sole proprietors if they invest in cryptocurrencies.

For a reward of ¥1.2 million, the tax official, who was working at a tax office in Kanagawa Prefecture, fabricated tax return documents for the applicants. Online applications for the benefits were filed by a different member of the group.

Once the benefit money, totaling ¥1 million per applicant, was paid, the full amount was collected by the university student. Of the total, ¥200,000 was shared among group members, while the remaining ¥800,000 was invested in cryptocurrencies. The group is believed to have never given the profits earned through the investment to the applicants.

The seven were arrested on suspicion of defrauding the government out of ¥1 million in COVID-19 relief benefits by disguising a 17-year-old boy as a sole proprietor around early August 2020. Of the arrested, five have already been indicted.

The group’s involvement in the fraud case was brought to light after the boy reported to the police that he was invited to become an applicant for the benefit money by pretending to be a sole proprietor. The boy was a high school student when the application was filed.