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West Japan town sues man refusing to return 46.3 mil. yen in wrongly paid COVID subsidies

This file photo shows 100,000 yen in cash. (Mainichi/Kazuhisa Soneda)

ABU, Yamaguchi -- The government of this west Japan town has sued a man demanding that he return all of 46.3 million yen (about $359,000) in coronavirus subsidies that the town mistakenly paid into his household bank account, after he refused to comply with the town's request for a refund.

    The Abu Municipal Government filed the suit with the Hagi branch of the Yamaguchi District Court on May 12 against the 24-year-old man who heads his household. The mishandled 46.3 million yen was worth the amount for 463 households the town was supposed to pay the subsidies to under the Japanese government's scheme to distribute handouts of 100,000-yen (approx. $770) to low-income households exempt from residential taxes to support families affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

    The Abu Municipal Assembly unanimously passed a bill bringing the case to court at an ad hoc meeting on the morning of May 12. According to the town's briefing at the meeting, the municipal government had asked the man to return the money since April 8, when the funds were mistakenly paid into his household account, by explaining the circumstances to him. His family member subsequently joined the discussion with the town office, and at one point the man expressed his intention to repay the money. However, when a town official contacted him on April 21, the man told them, "I've already moved the money. It can't be returned."

    It later turned out that the man had withdrawn almost the entire portion of the 46.3 million yen in less than two weeks after the money was paid into his household account. The town has reportedly since lost contact with him.

    "We want the money back, even if the refund were to be made now, as it's from our residents' precious public funds," Abu Mayor Norihiko Hanada told reporters upon the closure of the town council meeting. He revealed that the town hall has consulted with Yamaguchi Prefectural Police with an eye to filing a criminal complaint against the man.

    The mishap occurred when the town was supposed to pay a total of 46.3 million yen to 463 households, including the man's household. The town office said it has since been flooded with criticism over the fiasco.

    "If we fail to collect the money, it would be such a huge burden for this town with an annual budget of around 2 billion yen ($15.5 million) to cover costs in the general account, and I feel responsible over the matter," Mayor Hanada said in apology.

    When a Mainichi Shimbun reporter visited the man at his residential address in the town, there was no response to their call.

    With more than a month passing since the wrong payment, calls for resolving the issue are mounting in Abu. A man in his 70s told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I don't like it for the town to become notorious for money trouble. While it'd be best if the money was returned as soon as possible, I hope the issue will be settled without any damage for either the town or the man no matter how long it takes." A resident in her 70s appeared perplexed over the incident, saying, "The amount of money (mistakenly paid) is so huge that it's hard to get a sense of it. It's inconceivable."

    (Japanese original by Satoshi Kondo, Hagi Local Bureau, and Nanako Hori, Yamaguchi Bureau)

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