Japanese man blows town’s Covid relief fund after it appeared in his account

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Lee Jae-Won/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Lee Jae-Won/Reuters

A Japanese man who was mistakenly sent ¥46.3m (£287,000/US$358,000) in Covid-19 relief funds has admitted he gambled away the entire amount in the space of a fortnight.

The 24-year-old, who has not been named, was sent the sum in April as part of a local government programme to help residents who were struggling financially as a result of the pandemic.

But rather than sending him the correct amount – ¥100,000 (£621/US$774) – the town government of Abu, in western Japan, wired money intended for all 463 low-income households to his bank account, according to Japanese media reports.

After local officials realised their blunder, they filed a lawsuit on 12 May seeking the immediate return of the money plus legal costs, but were apparently unable to contact the recipient.

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The man, who reportedly lived alone and recently quit his job working in a shop, agreed to return the cash but then claimed, without explanation, that it had “been moved” from his account.

Records showed he withdrew all of the money from his bank account between 8 to 21 April.

This week, his lawyer said he had gambled the entire sum on online casino sites using his mobile phone, adding that it would be “difficult” for his client to return the money because he does not own any assets.

The mayor of Abu, Norihiko Hamada, described the man’s actions as “unforgivable” and said the town would do its utmost to recover the money.

The man’s lawyer said the parties involved were attempting to resolve the dispute, but legal experts said the town was unlikely to recoup its losses.

“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, told the Mainichi Shimbun.

Sonoda said the man’s actions had been “morally questionable” but added a criminal prosecution could be problematic given that people’s right to withdraw money from their accounts is recognised by Japan’s civil code.

Reports said ¥100,000 had since been sent to each of the households that missed out on the original payments.