Last month, the Japanese government inadvertently sent a COVID relief fund meant for 463 people worth 46.3 million yen ($360,890) to a 24-year-old man.
Based on the authorities’ investigation, the man withdrew 600,000 yen ($4,682) daily in the span of about two weeks. By the time the authorities were able to contact him, he claimed he no longer had the money.
“I’ve already moved the money. It can’t be returned,” he reportedly said. “It cannot be undone any more. I will not run. I will pay for my crime.”
Abu Mayor Norihiko Hanada has since apologized for the error, telling local residents that he is “deeply sorry” and that his office “will do our utmost to take back the large amount of public money.”
Following the blunder, a new batch of payouts amounting to 100,000 yen ($780) each has been issued to the target households.
The Abu Municipal Government is now suing the man for 51 million yen ($397,716), including legal fees.
After receiving the amount, the man initially said he would cooperate with local authorities but eventually went into hiding. His sudden disappearance prompted the southern town of Abu in Japan’s Yamaguchi Prefecture to file a civil lawsuit while also considering criminal action.
While he remains in hiding, his lawyer spoke to the press on Tuesday, saying the man had been cooperating with officials and is willing to be questioned by prefecture authorities.
However, after the lawsuit against him was filed on May 12, he has since evaded communication with officials.
According to his lawyer, the man lost the entire amount via online casino sites on his mobile phone.
“I don’t currently have the money and I don’t have anything with property value at hand. It’s actually difficult to return it,” the lawyer quoted his client as saying.
The relief fund was part of a local government program to help mitigate the financial effects of COVID on low-income households. The selected 463 families were supposed to receive 100,000 yen ($780) each.
However, the entire funding amounting to 46.3 million yen was deposited to the man’s personal bank account in error on April 8.