Business / Corporate

Suruga Bank ordered to suspend real estate financing operations after loan debacle

Kyodo

The government on Friday ordered regional lender Suruga Bank to suspend its real estate financing operations for six months after a spate of improper housing loans, including forgeries of income documents.

The Financial Services Agency ordered the bank to halt loans for purchases of investment-purpose real estate from Oct. 12 until April 12, the first issuance of a business suspension order to a Japanese bank since 2013, when Mizuho Bank was punished over its involvement in transactions with members of organized crime groups.

The agency judged that the bank, based in Shizuoka Prefecture, had “flaws in governance” after a third-party committee of lawyers recognized the management’s involvement in improper loan screenings in a report in September. The regulator also ordered the bank to compile a business improvement plan by November.

According to the report, former Executive Officer Haruo Aso pressured the screening department with orders to approve loans for people who had bought share houses for investment purposes.

The bank fabricated documents, including bank balances, to smooth loan screenings for those seeking to invest in the shared housing business, it said.

It also made sales contracts with false purchase prices that had been inflated so it could extend loans in violation of an in-house rule that put a limit on loans at 90 percent of the purchase price, the report said.

The bank said in a statement it will strengthen its legal compliance and corporate governance to eradicate such conduct.

The scandal came to light after Smart Days, the operator of a women-only share house chain called Kabocha no Basha, or Pumpkin Carriage, ceased paying monthly rents in January that it had guaranteed the owners of the properties, due to low occupancy rates.

Many owners who had bought the apartments with loans financed by Suruga Bank were then unable to pay back their debts. Smart Days went under in April.

Suruga Bank said it had extended a total of ¥203.5 billion in loans to 1,258 shared house owners as of the end of March.

The loan scandal led Mitsuyoshi Okano, a member of the bank’s founding family, to step down as chairman, while Akihiro Yoneyama also quit as president in September.

The bank also cut salaries or demoted dozens of senior officials involved in the misconduct on around Oct. 1, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Suruga Bank, founded in 1895, operates about 130 branches mainly in Shizuoka and Kanagawa prefectures. Specializing in housing and apartment loans for individuals, it was once praised for achieving record-high profits even during the period of prolonged low interest rates under the Bank of Japan’s ultraeasy monetary policy.