National / Crime & Legal

Land scam group sent Sekisui House payments to multiple accounts

Kyodo, JIJI

Fraud suspects in a bogus land deal targeting Sekisui House Ltd. are believed to have sent payments from the major homebuilder to multiple accounts and remitted a part of the money overseas, investigative sources said Wednesday.

The move was apparently aimed at making it difficult for Sekisui House to retrieve the money, the sources said. The company booked a loss of about ¥5.5 billion ($49 million) due to the scam last year, which involved a property in a prime Tokyo location.

Police arrested eight people on Tuesday and were seeking to apprehend four others in connection with the case. Some of the eight were sent to prosecutors Wednesday morning. The group is suspected of falsifying documents last year to change the ownership of the land in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward without the owner’s permission.

Among the arrested is Masami Haketa, 63, a group member suspected of posing as the female owner of the land in question who was hospitalized in February 2017 and died in June that year, according to police. Investigators said Haketa has admitted to impersonating her.

The 58-year-old man who is believed to have masterminded the fraud left Japan for the Philippines last week, they said.

According to Sekisui House and other sources, the Osaka-based company learned in March last year that the land in question was for sale. It concluded a contract on April 24 to purchase the site with a woman who claimed to be its owner after meeting her through a real estate company.

When the group and the company signed a sales contract for the land plot of about 2,000 square meters, the alleged scammers presented elaborately forged documents, such as a residence registry and passport, that even a judicial scrivener did not realize were fake, the police said.

Sekisui House had paid ¥6.3 billion by June 1 last year for the site of a closed inn near Gotanda Station. But the company’s application to change its ownership was rejected by the Legal Affairs Bureau on June 9 after the documents provided by the suspects were found to have been falsified.

Sekisui House was unable to recover about ¥5.55 billion out of the total payment and filed a criminal complaint with the Tokyo police.

The company made the matter public in August last year.

According to a report compiled in January by an external investigation commission, Sekisui House ignored information suggesting the deal was potentially fraudulanet and performed inadequate screening as it rushed to acquire the prime-location plot.

In a separate report released in March, the company recognized the responsibilities of its chairman, Toshinori Abe, who was president at the time of the land sale, and Isami Wada, who was chairman, for not understanding the overall deal.