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Tokyo police have arrested two Japanese industry ministry officials for allegedly cheating the government out of COVID-19 relief money.

The Metropolitan Police Department on Friday arrested Makoto Sakurai and Yutaro Arai, both 28 years old and employed by the ministry’s Economic and Industrial Policy Bureau, on suspicion of fraud.

They are suspected of swindling the ministry out of some ¥5.5 million in rent subsidies provided to struggling sole proprietors and small businesses.

Sakurai and Arai allegedly applied for subsidies under the program using false documents around December and received the money the following month, the police said.

The two were high school classmates. Arai is believed to have prepared the bogus documents and filed the application, the police said.

Most of the swindled money was put into Sakurai’s bank account and used for credit card payments for items including at least one luxury watch, the police said.

The subsidy program provides up to ¥6 million each to small companies and ¥3 million each to sole proprietors. The ministry has already finished accepting applications.

It has recognized that three companies and five individuals fraudulently received a total of ¥11 million under the subsidy program.

The ministry said that it was very regrettable that officials were arrested on suspicion of subsidy fraud and that it will deal with the matter strictly.

“I don’t understand why they did such as thing. It’s unbelievable,” a senior ministry official said.

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