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Suspected ring leader of Sekisui House land scam arrested

The land plot at the center of the fraudulent land deal, a former site of an inn, is seen in the Nishigotanda district of Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward on Oct. 12, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The apparent leader of a fraud ring involved in a land plot deal here that cost major housing company Sekisui House Ltd. roughly 5.5 billion yen was arrested on Nov. 20, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has announced, bringing the total number of arrests made over the case to 14.

Mike Uchida, a 65-year-old company employee and resident of Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward, was arrested on suspicion of using forged private documents with a seal, and other charges. The MPD's second criminal investigation section believes Uchida is the leader of the fraud ring and the architect behind the scheme.

The suspect is thought to have teamed up with the other members in June 2017 to pose as the owner of the site of a former Japanese inn in the Nishigotanda district of Shinagawa Ward and attempt to transfer ownership rights without consent, among other actions. Uchida told police that he was "not involved," denying all allegations against him.

In January 2017, Uchida was handed a prison sentence in connection with a separate case and was serving time behind bars. However, at the time of the Sekisui House case, he was in the middle of appealing the case and was out on bail.

Another apparent leader in the scheme, a 58-year-old company employee formerly known as Misao Koyama fled Japan, and the MPD has added him to an international wanted list.

According to individuals familiar with the investigation, Uchida set his sights on the property in question roughly six months before the contract with Sekisui House was concluded. He then allegedly gathered a group of companions and divided the roles among the members of the ring.

According to a man who knows Uchida, he said he is "from Kanagawa Prefecture and has a foreign father." After working in fields related to finance and real estate, Uchida became known as a "big real estate scammer" around 2001.

Uchida allegedly called on the members of the ring whom he already knew, such as Koyama and Fumiaki Kitada, 58, and hammered out the details of the Sekisui House scam. Masami Haketa, 63, a former life insurance salesperson who posed as the landowner of the property, appears to have been recruited through other group members such as Koko Akiba, 74, and Miyuki Takei, 57, who was the 13th member arrested on Nov. 17. Akiba had been arrested previously in another land scam along with another member of the fraud ring, Hirosuke Nagata, 54.

The group allegedly used daring methods such as allowing Sekisui House employees to view the interior of the former inn on the property. "Moving that amount of money is no ordinary feat," the man familiar with Uchida said. "The scam was pulled off precisely because of Uchida's guts and personal connections."

The MPD's second criminal investigation section is currently comparing the statements given by the 14 members arrested thus far, moving forward toward a complete explanation of the scheme.

(Japanese original by Tomoko Igarashi and Kazuki Sakuma, City News Department)

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