National / Crime & Legal

Ex-head of bankrupt kimono firm gets 30 months in prison for fraud

Kyodo

The former head of a now-bankrupt kimono rental firm was sentenced to 30 months in prison Wednesday for swindling banks of funds to keep his business running until its abrupt closure before Coming of Age Day earlier this year.

Yoichiro Shinozaki, 56, the former president of Harenohi, was convicted of defrauding two banks a total of around ¥65 million in September 2016 by presenting padded earnings reports.

The sudden closure of his business left some 2,000 women without formal attire for their once-in-a-lifetime event.

The accused “went way over the line as a business manager,” presiding Judge Hidetaka Watanabe said in handing down the ruling at the Yokohama District Court. “His actions deserve strong condemnation because he selfishly ordered an accounting officer to tamper with documents in order to keep running the company.”

The defendant defrauded the banks with no intention to pay back the loans and padded the earnings reports to cover up the fact that his company was actually in the red, according to the ruling.

According to a bankruptcy administrator, Harenohi went under owing an estimated ¥1.09 billion, of which it owed ¥345 million to customers. Most of the debt has not been repaid, the ruling said.

Chieko Takaya, 50, from Yokohama and whose eldest daughter planned to wear a kimono rented from the firm, said, “During his 30-month prison term, I want him to reflect on his actions that caused damage to new 20-year-olds, with which he was not charged this time.”

During the trial, prosecutors had sought a five-year prison term for what they described as a premeditated crime. But the defense counsel had demanded a suspended sentence claiming that Shinozaki truly wanted to rent out kimono to women participating in Coming of Age Day ceremonies.

He has admitted to swindling the money.

The district court said the jail term for Shinozaki was shorter than demanded by the prosecutors because he had apologized to those troubled by the sudden shutdown of his business.

“I did something that I cannot make up for during my lifetime. I deeply regret it. I am very sorry,” Shinozaki said during the trial.

“I do not feel his sincerity even though he apologized after all this time,” said the 46-year-old mother of a woman who could not rent a kimono. “We will remember that sorrow every year around the time of Coming of Age Day. I want the defendant to never forget that we are feeling this way.”

Many women wear lavish furisode kimono, often worth several hundred thousand yen, to mark the day when municipalities hold ceremonies for new 20-year-olds around Coming of Age Day.

Harenohi’s abrupt closure before the celebratory occasion on Jan. 8 caused a furor among numerous female clients in the Hachioji area of Tokyo and in Yokohama. But the company has not been charged for the financial damage inflicted on the customers.

Police initially sought to charge the firm with customer fraud but gave up after finding it had been preparing kimono even as its business was deteriorating.