Hiroo Mizushima, the arrested former chairman of failed department store operator Sogo Co., told police he asked a relative to keep 100 million yen in cash at his home out of “fear (it) might be lost in a fire,” police said Saturday.

Mizushima, 89, was arrested Friday night on suspicion of concealing personal wealth to avoid its court-ordered seizure by Sogo creditors.

Police say Mizushima’s account is so unnatural that it supports police suspicions that he entrusted the money to the relative to conceal it. He is suspected of concealing 155 million yen in total.

Mizushima has denied the allegations against him throughout his questioning, police said.

Obstructing the execution of court orders carries a sentence of up to two years imprisonment or a fine of up to 500,000 yen.

Sogo, a long-established department store group, filed for court protection from creditors on July 12. as part of its rehabilitation process.

Just two days later, Mizushima withdrew 55 million yen from a Bank of Yokohama branch near his Tokyo home, according to police sources.

On July 25, he is suspected of withdrawing some 100 million yen after canceling an investment fund.

When he withdrew the 55 million yen, he also asked the bank to refund 550 million yen in time deposits, although the bank could not immediately arrange the transaction, the sources said.

Mizushima allegedly gave the 100 million yen withdrawn from the investment fund to a relative, who held it from the beginning of this year to early May, the sources said.

Given the circumstances, police believe Mizushima was attempting to conceal assets from creditors.

Police served the arrest warrant against Mizushima at a Tokyo hospital where he had been since Wednesday and moved him to Tokyo Police Hospital.

Early Wednesday morning, just before police were set to search his home in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, Mizushima complained of symptoms of angina and was hospitalized.

Due to his advanced age, police had initially considered investigating without apprehending him. But they decided to arrest him out of fear he would hide evidence after he went missing for several days before his hospitalization.

The remaining money was seized in a police search of his home Wednesday, the sources said.

The Industrial Bank of Japan sought an order from the Tokyo District Court in late July to seize Mizushima’s assets to pay for a personal guarantee he made on an 11 billion yen loan to Sogo. IBJ is now a unit of Mizuho Holdings Inc.

The loan was made to finance Sogo’s plan to build an outlet in Tokyo’s Kinshicho district in 1994.

Mizushima’s lawyers issued a statement Friday saying his withdrawal of the money does not constitute obstruction of execution of court orders.

They said judicial precedents indicate that only concealment of funds constitutes a crime, claiming Mizushima should not be held criminally responsible because he intended to use the withdrawn money to cover living and legal expenses.

Mizushima, a former official of the IBJ, presided over Sogo for 38 years as president and later as board chairman before stepping down in April 2000 at the height of Sogo’s crisis. He was known for his high-handed administration style and was dubbed a dictator.

Sogo is currently undergoing reconstruction under the wings of Seibu Department Stores Ltd.

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