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Central Japan assemblyman made 8.9 mil. yen via online auctions of masks

Hiroyuki Morota, a member of the Shizuoka Prefectural Assembly, offers an apology during a press conference held at the prefectural government building in Shizuoka, Shizuoka Prefecture, on March 9, 2020. (Mainichi/Yukina Furukawa)

SHIZUOKA -- A local assembly member in central Japan revealed on March 9 that he made some 8.88 million yen by selling face masks via online auctions amid the high demand for the items due to fears over the new coronavirus.

Hiroyuki Morota, 53, an independent member of the Shizuoka Prefectural Assembly, told a press conference on March 9 that he had sold face masks on internet auctions a total of 89 times since Feb. 4, when the demand for masks began to surge due to the novel virus outbreak.

Morota said the masks he put to auction were released from reserves at a trading company he heads, and said, "I don't think it constitutes reselling because the masks came from stockpiles." Nevertheless, he said, "I offer my deepest apologies to those who were offended."

He suggested that he would divert the proceeds from the sale to measures to prevent new coronavirus infections after consulting with the prefectural government. The assemblyman announced that he would step down as president of his company, but refused to resign as a prefectural assembly member. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on March 5 that his government would ban the resale of masks at exorbitant prices.

According to Morota, his company purchased face masks in around 2009 when Japan saw an outbreak of the new strain of influenza, but the masks largely remained in stock. The firm was earlier selling masks via its online shopping site for 6 yen each, even though their original cost was 15 yen each. But by late January, the company had sometimes received more than 1,000 orders for masks a day due to the spread of the new coronavirus. As the sales task was beyond the capacity of the firm's three employees, it decided to put up the reserves on online auctions, with one of them saying, "Let's put up the masks for 1 yen each and then have the market decide the price."

As it turned out, a set of 2,000 masks put up by the firm fetched prices ranging from 34,200 yen to 172,368 yen on online auctions.

Morota stopped placing the items on auction sites on March 6 after receiving inquiries from media outlets. While he had placed the masks on online auctions using his personal account, he said the proceeds were reported in the company's books. He also said that some of the reserve masks were donated to three facilities, such as a nursing school in Osaka Prefecture in western Japan.

(Japanese original by Yukina Furukawa, Shizuoka Bureau)

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