Japan suspect in COVID relief fraud deported by Indonesia

TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese man accused of defrauding the government of 1 billion yen ($7.3 million) intended for small Japanese businesses hurt by the coronavirus pandemic was arrested on board a flight Wednesday after being deported from Indonesia, where he fled 1 1/2 years ago.

Mitsuhiro Taniguchi, 47, was arrested by Japanese police who accompanied him from Indonesia. He was taken to a police station after landing at Tokyo’s Narita airport, Japanese media reported. Police confirmed his arrest.

Indonesian immigration official Douglas Simamora said earlier Wednesday that Taniguchi was deported after his passport was revoked by the Japanese government and because he had no Indonesian residence permit.

Indonesian authorities arrested Taniguchi on June 4 at a house owned by a fish trader in Lampung province. During his stay there, he described himself as an investor interested in fisheries. Indonesian authorities are investigating whether other people in that country were involved in the fraud scheme linked to Taniguchi.

In one case, Taniguchi and his accomplice Koichiro Ota, 34, who was separately arrested Wednesday, allegedly defrauded the government of 2 million yen ($14,700) by submitting a false application behalf of someone lacking eligibility for a subsidy, the Tokyo police said.

Taniguchi and a group of acquaintances allegedly submitted about 1,700 false applications for COVID-19 relief funds to the Japanese government and illegally received subsidies on more than 960 of those applications, taking with them about 1 billion yen ($7.3 million), reports say.

Police arrested Taniguchi’s ex-wife and their two sons — believed to be part of a larger group — in May on fraud allegations and were preparing to place Taniguchi on an international wanted list. The three suspects allegedly defrauded the government of 3 million yen ($22,500) in COVID-19 subsidies from June to August 2020.

The case surfaced in August 2020 when the office offering the subsidies consulted with Tokyo police. Taniguchi entered Indonesia two months later on an investor visa.

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Jatmiko and Tarigan reported from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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