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Man mistakenly sent entire $358,000 COVID relief fund for his town’s low-income households, gambles it away in 2 weeks

May 18, 2022, 11:30 AM UTC

A man in Japan who was accidentally sent his town’s entire ¥46.3 million ($358,000) COVID-19 relief fund has admitted to gambling away the entire sum on his smartphone in two weeks.

The 24-year-old, a resident of Abu town in the Yamaguchi prefecture of Japan, was sent the sum in April as part of a government program to help those struggling financially from the pandemic. While he was only supposed to receive ¥100,000 ($774) as part of his financial aid package, the town accidentally wired him the entire amount intended to be distributed to all 463 low-income households in the town of Abu.  

Within days the man transferred all the money out of his account and spent it at international casinos. “He spent all (of the ¥46.3 million) by using his smartphone,” his attorney said in a press conference to local media.

Abu Mayor Norihiko Hanada has condemned these actions, calling them “unforgivable,” and noting it was hard to imagine such a large sum of money lost all in one go. “We want to trace the flow of the money in the lawsuit. I want him to return it; it’s not too late.”

Municipal officials filed a lawsuit against the man on May 12, for ¥51 million, demanding all funds be returned to the government, and also began preparing a criminal complaint against him.

How it happened

The man was sent the money on April 8 and within 11 days wired all the money out of his account through a series of 34 transactions, Asahi Shinbun reported. They noted that at the time the man had ¥665 ($5.15) in his bank account, excluding his ¥100,000 COVID-19 relief grant, and his attorney stated that some of the funds went to settling his outstanding credit card payments.

After gambling away the rest of the money, the man responded to the prefectural police’s request to speak on May 10, when the town’s banking mistake came to light, local reports said.

The attorney representing the man said he had voluntarily agreed to be questioned by the police and had given up his smartphone as part of the investigation.

The man, who reportedly lived alone and recently quit his job working in a shop, apologized for spending the money and said he intends to repay it, according to reports from Mainichi Shinbun. He says he can only do so by paying it back “little by little.”

But legal experts and the lawyers surrounding the case say it is unlikely the money will be returned to the town. The man’s attorney noted that all the money is gone and the man does not own any assets

“Even if the town wins its suit and seeks to seize assets, if the man doesn’t have any it will be hard to recover the money,” Hisashi Sonoda, a professor emeritus of criminal law at Konan University in Kobe, said to Mainichi Shimbun. Sonada said even if the man’s actions were “morally questionable,” criminal prosecution would be difficult under Japan’s civil code as people have a right to withdraw money from their bank accounts, “meaning that there could be contradictions in seeking criminal responsibility over the man’s action,” he said.

Despite the man’s gambling spree, the town’s blunder didn’t cost other Abu citizens their own government checks. Reports note that ¥100,000 has since been sent to each of the low-income households that missed out on the original payments.  

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