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Village reels as Naha court freezes its bank accounts

Date Posted: 2007-06-21

Iheya Village’s position has gone from bad to worse, and the mayor has declared a state of emergency.

The tiny village of only 1,800 residents located off the northwest coast of Okinawa’s main island had its bank accounts frozen this week by the Naha District Court in connection with a breech of contract suit by a construction contractor. Village Mayor Shinsuke Nishime had illegally awarded a waste management facility contract to a contractor in 2003, triggering a complaint from the Tokyo contractor who had legitimately been awarded to contract. The lower court had ruled several weeks ago that Iheya Village must pay the Tokyo contractor ¥146,360,000 in damages, and the mayor appealed the ruling.

Showing no tolerance, the Naha District Court accepted the construction company’s appeal that the village bank accounts be frozen in order to protect its interests. The court did just that, imposing a lock on ten separate village bank accounts, a total of more than ¥40 million. Village officials say they have no idea how they can continue operating services for residents, adding they must now decide which planned projects must also be stopped.

The mayor has posted a ¥70 million bond with the Ministry of Justice to stop the funds seizure by the court, but Iheya Village has received no notice yet from the government. The ¥70 million was taken by Mayor shinsuke Nishime from the village’s 2007 budget, but the Village Assembly is questioning the action.

This is the second major to scandal to strike the small village in less than a year. The former deputy mayor of Iheya Village went to jail last September after being convicted of ripping off public funds, fraud and malpractice.

Kunio Miyagi had been convicted of defrauding his community, and sentenced to two years in prison followed by six months probation. As deputy mayor, Miyagi purchased a garbage truck for the village at a cost of ¥6,000,000. As he filed the claim, though, he billed the village for ¥7,100,000. “What he did was betray the village peoples’ trust,” the judge said at sentencing. “Then he used the public money as his own, and that is a heavy sin.”

In all, the 59-year-old Miyagi defrauded Iheya Village of ¥5,350,000. He used the money to buy himself a car, which he used on the Okinawa mainland instead of the village.

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