• Kyodo


Police on Tuesday searched the offices of a Tokyo-based health food company and some 30 related facilities over an alleged investment scam in which about 3,000 people were bilked out of more than 7 billion yen.

A joint investigation team made up of officers from the Aichi, Aomori and Kagoshima prefectural forces, as well as Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department, conducted the search on suspicion that the company, Albien, violated the investment law.

According to police and sources familiar with the case, the company convinced people to invest in sales of pomegranate drinks and other products by telling them a 3 million yen investment would lead to monthly dividends of 400,000 yen.

Last September, when the firm became unable to pay dividends, it allegedly lured people into another scam by persuading them to invest in a nonexistent business project in the United States for producing healthy water, according to the sources. Investigators are checking to see whether the actions of the company constitute fraud.

“By trusting the words of former senior officials, we amassed too many members,” Albien Chairman Masanori Eguchi said. “Because we guaranteed the principal, we cannot help it if we are accused of violating the investment law, but we did not intend to deceive people.”

According to Eguchi, 54, and others, Albien members deposited a total of 7.4 billion yen into the firm’s accounts at five major commercial banks. Albien returned about 2.93 billion yen to members, but it has already spent at least 3.76 billion yen on purchasing pomegranate drinks and making other outlays, they said.

In addition, the firm tried to jump on the World Cup bandwagon by attempting to sell porcelain copies of the World Cup trophy with its pomegranate drinks and soliciting new members by holding parties to which such famous soccer players as Kunishige Kamamoto, the vice chairman of the Japan Football Association, were invited.

The company allegedly collected about 20 million yen from four people, including women in Aichi and Gifu prefectures, between January and July 2001 by promising that the capital would be guaranteed and a dividend paid, according to investigations.

It is suspected of receiving between several hundred thousand and several million yen per person since summer 2000, the sources said.

Albien was launched in the trendy Nishi-Azabu district of Tokyo’s Minato Ward with capital of 30 million yen in April 2001. It reportedly has 21 branches nationwide.

One housewife who “invested” 3 million yen in the scheme in June without consulting her husband said she hopes that at least some of the money will be returned.

The woman, of Osaka, said that an acquaintance told her about the investment deal in June, and that she attended a meeting in which the system was explained.

Impressed by the passionate way Eguchi explained the firm’s operations, she deposited the 3 million yen in an Albien bank account the next month without really understanding how the scheme worked.

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