A Japanese man who gambled away over $360,000 in COVID-19 relief funds he mistakenly received was arrested on charges of computer fraud, police said Thursday. File Photo by chrupka/Shutterstock
May 19 (UPI) -- A man in southwestern Japan who mistakenly received over $360,000 in COVID-19 relief funds before gambling it all away was arrested on charges of computer fraud, police confirmed Thursday.
A total of 46.3 million Japanese yen was meant to be evenly distributed to 463 low-income households in the town of Abu, but town officials instead wired the entire amount to the bank account of a 24-year-old unemployed man in early April.
The man, identified in media reports as Sho Taguchi, was arrested Wednesday by Yamaguchi Prefecture police. According to a police statement, the suspect committed fraud when he transferred some of the funds to another account via his smartphone.
Taguchi eventually lost the entire amount gambling in online casinos and is unable to repay the town, his lawyer told reporters earlier this week, according to the Asahi Shimbun. Abu's mayor, Norihiko Hanada, called the man's alleged actions "unforgivable."
After weeks of stalling, the suspect eventually told town officials that he no longer had the money, Hanada said. The town sued him to recover the funds last week.
On Thursday, Hanada said the arrest would reveal the flow of the money and held out hope that it wasn't all gone.
"I want to collect the full amount in the proceedings," he said, according to the Mainichi Shimbun.
The case is being widely covered in national news media and has sparked public outrage in Japan, with the mayor saying his office has been inundated with angry calls and emails.
Taguchi withdrew the funds in 34 transactions between April 8 and 18, according to a report by Japanese broadcaster NHK, and was left with just $532 after gambling it away.
Japan has one of the world's highest rates of severe gambling problems, an academic study published in March found.