Ex-Sumitomo Mitsui Employee Charged with Embezzling JPY960 million

On 22 November 2016, the Tokyo District Prosecutor's Office charged Hiroshi Minamihashi, former deputy manager at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation's (SMBC) Omori branch, with fraud. Mr Minamihashi is accused of embezzling JPY 770 million from SMBC.  This follows a further charge, made against him earlier in the same month, of embezzling JPY 190 million from the bank.

Both incidents are alleged to be part of the same fraudulent scheme, perpetrated over separate time periods, involving the illegal manipulation of SMBC's online system for foreign currency transactions. The embezzled funds were paid to an account created under a fabricated company name.

After the scheme was uncovered following a tax inspection in June 2016, Mr Minamihashi admitted taking the funds, claiming that he had done so in order to pay for various private expenses. The bank promptly dismissed him on disciplinary grounds and filed a complaint with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department in September 2016.

Because Mr Minamihashi was authorised to operate the bank's computer system alone, this allowed his conduct to go unnoticed for some time.  In response, Yuichiro Himuro, a Tokyo-based spokesman for SMBC, says the bank is reviewing its processes and taking steps to ensure staff awareness in order to prevent a similar recurrence in the future.

High Court convicts city mayor in bribery case

On 28 November 2016, Hiroto Fujii, former Mayor of Minokamo city (in Gifu prefecture), was convicted of accepting bribes after the Nagoya High Court overturned the lower District Court's acquittal. Mr Fujii, who in 2013 became the youngest mayor in Japan, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison (suspended for 3 years) and ordered to pay a JPY 300,000 fine.

The High Court ruled that, during his time as a municipal assembly member, Mr Fujii accepted a bribe totalling JPY 300,000 from the president of a groundwater supply installation company, Masayoshi Nakabayashi. The bribe was intended to facilitate a contract for the installation of a water-cleaning system at a school in Minokamo. Mr Nakabayashi himself is currently serving a four-year prison sentence in respect of various charges, including payment of the bribe. 

The focus in the High Court was the credibility of the testimony given by Mr Nakabayashi during Mr Fujii's initial trial. The District Court had found that testimony to be "unnatural and wavering" and lacking "a sense of realism at its core." The High Court, however, disagreed, leading to the mayor's guilty verdict.

Mr Fujii has appealed the ruling. He has meanwhile resigned from his position as mayor and seeks re-election, stating his intention to "…seek the voters' response to keeping [his] position while battling the unjust ruling."