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OSAKA — Osaka Prefectural Police raided the Kyoto head office and Osaka branch of moneylender Nichiei Co. as well as four other sites Wednesday in connection with the scandal-tainted firm’s alleged involvement in heavy-handed loan-collection tactics by its employees. Investigators were acting on a complaint filed earlier in the week by a company president in Osaka who alleged that two Nichiei employees threatened him and a guarantor at Nichiei’s Osaka office for about five hours in October 1998 to get him to repay loans. The two, who have since left the firm and now work for a Nichiei affiliate, used such phrases as “Kill yourself to get (insurance) money to pay us back” during the incident, according to the complaint. Neither was named. According to police sources, investigators will try to determine if the company directly taught its employees to use such tactics, which would be a violation of laws regulating moneylenders in the recovery of loans. They will question the two men, aged 50 and 33, as well as other Nichiei senior officials in connection with the case, they added. Nichiei is the nation’s largest firm specializing “shoko” no-collateral, high-interest-rate loans to small businesses. Public criticism of shoko loans has been mounting in recent weeks due to the threatening manner in which lenders allegedly seek repayment as well as the exorbitant interest rates they charge. According to investigators, the company president, who was also not identified, owed roughly 12 million yen from Nichiei at the time he and his guarantor were called to the Nichiei office on Oct. 22, 1998. The complaint says that for nearly five hours, they were intimidated by the pair, who suggested they jump out of the window and offered to give them a push if they wanted. The next day, Nichiei employees began frequenting the homes of the company president and his eldest son, who was also a guarantor, putting emotional strain on the son’s wife, the complaint said. Wednesday’s raid on the head office was the second launched against Nichiei following the Metropolitan Police Department searches on Nov. 26. Two former Nichiei employees have already been arrested for allegedly resorting to loan-collection tactics that bordered on extortion, and Tokyo police have also turned over to prosecutors their case against the lender. The growing case against Nichiei may trigger moves by financial regulators to issue administrative punishment, including ordering a temporary suspension of business, observers said. Police have already questioned Nichiei founder and President Kazuo Matsuda in connection with the various allegations, but Matsuda has denied there were explicit instructions to use threats, saying only that he urged his staff to work hard and boost business, sources close to the case said. Matsuda, who has already given unsworn Diet testimony regarding his firm’s business practices, is to appear before the legislature again next week for sworn testimony.

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