Japanese Man Gambles $358K in COVID Relief Funds, Escapes Police

COVID hit every nation in a different way and every nation in combating the consequences and helping its citizen differently. No matter what mechanism is implemented, mistakes are bound to happen. Just like what happened to a man in Japan who erroneously received a big care package meant for an entire town, spent it all on gambling, and evaporated shortly after being questioned.

Where Did The Money Go?

On April 8, an unnamed 24-year-old man in the southern town of Abu in Japan’s Yamaguchi Prefecture received $358K (46.3m yen) in COVID relief as part of the government’s support scheme to ease the financial strain on low-income households. However, the amount received was meant for the entire 463 people in this town who were to receive this round of financial relief. Town authorities have already announced they are still going to make good on the payments for the remaining 462 households which are $770 (100,000 yen) per household.

Apparently, it was a simple mistake of sending a list to the bank to make the payments. For some reason, the list contained the first name and the total amount to be sent out. According to Japanese media, local police have already opened a criminal investigation into the matter. 600,000 yen or some $46,000 was withdrawn on the same day the man received the money. Then, the culprit continued to withdraw as much money from his account daily before there was nothing left. It took him two weeks to go through the entire amount.

He was steadily spending it, allegedly on gambling, until they caught him. While being questioned by the local police forces, the man confirmed he’s had the amount but doesn’t anymore, and vowed to pay it all back. The man has been on record saying: “I’ve already moved the money. It can’t be returned,” adding that “It cannot be undone anymore. I will not run. I will pay for my crime.” Shortly after being released from questioning, the Japanese citizen bolted away and at the time of writing hasn’t been caught yet.

COVID-19 Relief Funds Abused

Earlier this year, the US Department of Justice indicted a man from Oregon, Benjamin Tifekchian, who pled guilty to bank fraud later in April. DoJ worked on Tifekchian’s case which had abused the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to his benefit by falsely obtaining $884,000 in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) payments he received on behalf of a dud company he incorporated, Bencho Jewelry Inc.

The company was then used to try and apply for various relief funds. Most were turned down, but one went through and the man received the amount, which he then used to cover a gambling debt. Tifekchian pled guilty and took a plea deal. He has agreed to pay restitution to the tune of $910,773.35 and will spend 21 months in prison, followed by five years of supervised release.

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