Man Who Gambled Away an Entire Town’s COVID Relief Funds Has Been Arrested

Some $358,000 mysteriously showed up in the 24-year-old’s bank account one day in April. He spent it all.
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The man claimed he spent it all on online casinos. Photo: Shutterstock 

Japanese police have arrested a man who gambled away the equivalent of $358,000 that mysteriously appeared in his bank account that turned out to be his town’s COVID-19 relief fund.

Sho Taguchi, a 24-year-old resident of Abu town in the southern prefecture of Yamaguchi, was accidentally sent the sum by his local government on April 6. The money was supposed to be distributed equally among the town’s 463 low-income residents as a pandemic relief measure. But instead of paying him the correct 100,000 yen ($764), they accidentally wired him the whole amount—46.3 million yen ($358,000).

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The town sued Taguchi after he refused to pay it back—he said he spent the entire sum on foreign casino sites. This week, Taguchi expressed remorse and said he would pay it back, bit by bit.

The apology might have come too late. Police arrested the man on Thursday, accusing him of computer fraud.

The details of Taguchi’s case have enthralled the nation, stirring a debate about who’s responsible for the mess. Though some have directed anger toward Taguchi for spending money meant for other low-income families, others have questioned how the local government could have allowed for such a blunder to take place.

On Japanese television, former parliament member Emi Kaneko said, “It was an elementary and unbelievable mistake by the town that led to this situation.”

The debate also took place on Japanese social media. “I think it’s wrong (morally) not to refund the money, but it was the administration that made the mistake in the first place,” one Twitter user commented

Kohei Ojima, a parliament member from Tokyo, said the greater issue at hand was how that money would be returned. “How will the government take responsibility and prevent recurrence?” he tweeted.

Taguchi, who reportedly lived alone and worked at a hardware shop in a nearby town, at first agreed to return the cash. But then he decided against it, claiming that he’d moved the money from his account. 

Records have shown that he withdrew the entire sum from his account between April 8 and 21, on 34 separate occasions. Before getting the funds, he had 665 yen ($5) in the bank.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Taguchi’s lawyer said it’d be “difficult” for his client to return the money. Then on Wednesday, the lawyer said Taguchi was now sorry and planned to pay it back. He didn’t say where Taguchi, who quit his job after receiving the funds, is going to find $358,000.

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