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Indonesia arrests Japanese man linked to COVID relief fraud

JAKARTA, INDONESIA (AP) – Authorities on the southern tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra island arrested a Japanese fugitive accused of fraud in Japan in connection with the receipt of a massive amount of COVID-19 subsidies for small businesses in distress, police said yesterday.

Mitsuhiro Taniguchi, 47, was arrested on Tuesday night in Kalirejo village of Central Lampung district, by immigration officers and backed by local police, said National Police spokesperson Dedi Prasetyo.

Taniguchi was wanted by Japanese police over pandemic subsidy fraud and left Japan for Indonesia in October 2020, Prasetyo said.

Taniguchi and a group of acquaintances allegedly submitted some 1,700 false applications for COVID-19 relief funds. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department believes they received subsidies in more than 960 of those applications for an estimated JPY960 million (USD7.3 million).

He said there was no red notice related to Taniguchi’s case, but Indonesian police have taken proactive steps by coordinating with immigration to detect his presence since entering Indonesian territory. “His presence in Indonesia became illegal after the Japanese authorities revoked his passport,” Prasetyo said, adding that Taniguchi has been handed over to the Directorate of Immigration’s Supervision and Enforcement division and authorities are coordinating with Japanese diplomats for a deportation process.

Tokyo police arrested Taniguchi’s ex-wife and their two sons on May 30 on suspicion of fraud and Tokyo’s MPD placed him on an international wanted list, according to Japanese newspaper The Mainichi Shimbun.

It said the three are suspected of defrauding the government of JPY3 million in COVID-19 subsidies from June to August 2020.

The scheme was uncovered in August 2020 when the office offering the subsidies consulted with Tokyo police. Taniguchi is believed to have fled Japan two months later, Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun reported.

Immigration officers escort Mitsuhiro Taniguchi, 47, of Japan. PHOTO: AP