NAGOYA – The Aichi Prefectural Police said Thursday they will open an investigation into the town of Higashiura, Aichi Prefecture, on suspicion that officials intentionally added nonexistent residents to its population count in hopes of being upgraded to city status.
Town officials allegedly inflated the number to bring the total to more than 50,000 residents, one of the thresholds to obtain city status.
Official designation as a city would allow the municipal government to provide enhanced services, including setting up a welfare office to assist low-income residents.
Suspicions surfaced in October 2010 when an anonymous whistle-blower contacted the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry’s Statistics Bureau, which compiles the national census.
Based on the information, the bureau repeatedly requested Higashiura to conduct a recount. The town was forced to cut 280 residents from the initial estimate of 50,080 last October after it found people who were registered had moved out or that registered addresses were vacant lots.
The town’s current population stands at 49,800.
Higashiura is largely a bedroom community for auto industry workers commuting to Nagoya and Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, which host Toyota Motor Corp. subsidiaries and affiliates.
In a report submitted to the ministry earlier this month, the town admitted that officials felt tremendous pressure to help bring about the upgrade in status. It also concluded that officials had only looked at the registration documents and did not physically confirm their accuracy because “they firmly believed that residents still lived there.”
Mayor Akihiko Kamiya earlier this month denied the allegation that the town had intentionally added fictitious residents, while admitting that “there were a lot of town officials who had high hopes for the town to become a city.”
The town cut the salaries of officials who were in charge of the survey.
Higashiura’s aspiration to become a city began under former Mayor Tokumitsu Idei, who had repeatedly encouraged officials to log as many residents as possible after the town failed to merge with three neighboring cities.