Renowned lawyer Kohei Nakabo’s sudden announcement Friday that he would give up his practice over his alleged involvement in a swindle in connection with debt collection was greeted with a mixture of surprise and coolness.

Often dubbed “The Demon,” Nakabo carried out his tasks with a seemingly endless supply of energy. Many found this voracity hard to believe coming from his small 160 cm frame and soft Kansai dialect.

His successes in tackling high-profile legal cases as a champion of the weak led to his appointment as head of Housing Loan Administration Corp. in 1996. The appointment came amid a public furor over taxpayer money going toward collecting the bad loans left behind by seven failed “jusen” housing loan lenders.

However, while the entity, which later became Resolution and Collection Corp., was generally successful in collecting sour loans, Nakabo was at times criticized for allowing investigative authorities to intervene in issues that were basically civil problems. These interventions were invited by the body repeatedly filing criminal complaints against borrowers who refused to cooperate.

“Mr. Nakabo assumed many important posts, including chairman of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, and was actively involved as a lawyer in many cases that received wide social attention,” said Toru Motobayashi, current federation chairman. “I recognize the fact that he has initiated the procedure to give up his practice as a grave decision, which came as a result of his sincerity as a lawyer.”

Residents on Teshima Island, Kagawa Prefecture, expressed shock at the news. Nakabo led a team of lawyers that fought to get some 500,000 tons of illegally dumped industrial waste off the island.

Mitsuo Sunagawa, who heads a local citizens’ group that spearheaded grassroots efforts to battle the dumping, said it was a bolt out of the blue.

“Mr. Nakabo played a central role not just in Teshima but also in other important issues around the country,” Sunagawa said. “I cannot but ask myself, ‘Why?’ “

But although he tackled the issue of debt collection with the desire to swiftly get the money back and reduce the burden on taxpayers, some accused him of colluding with investigative authorities; his critics felt that as a lawyer, he should instead be challenging authority.

Writer Manabu Miyazaki, who has been a vocal critic of the HLAC’s collection methods, slammed Nakabo’s collection methods as “crooked tactics” that were a far cry from justice.

“The media’s responsibility for setting (Nakabo) on a pedestal as if he was a spokesman for justice is grave,” he said.

In the alleged swindle, the RCC failed to supply the proper selling price for a piece of land to other parties when getting them to remove their fixed mortgages on it. The money the RCC gained from selling the land went toward repaying the debts of the land’s owner.

One person involved in legal affairs remarked: “In the common sense of the past, such collection tactics (allegedly used in the swindle) were just usual bargaining in the world of civil affairs.

“But it was Mr. Nakabo who worked to turn such instances into criminal cases, and it seems he got caught in the net he himself laid out.”

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