TOKYO (TR) – The Osaka District Court has sentenced Hikaru Morikawa to 10 years in prison for being a key figure in a fraud ring in Africa that targeted Japanese people, reports Mainichi Broadcasting System (Dec. 8).
Morikawa, 60, was extradited from Ghana in August of last year for swindling more than 30 Japanese people out of at least 110 million yen by posing online as various personas including an American writer and a UN official.
Morikawa is believed to have operated within a ring that carried out so-called “International Romance Fraud.”
In carrying out the ruses, perpetrated between between 2017 and 2021, Morikawa pretended to be in love with his victims. After wooing them with affectionate language, the defrauded funds were sent for various false purposes such as “recovering customs fees for sent jewelry.”
At the opening of his trial, Morikawa denied the allegations, saying none of the victims existed. “I don’t know anything. I was not involved in any way,” he told the court.
In response, the prosecution demanded a 15-year prison term, saying that Morikawa played an extremely important role within the organization, such as collecting the defrauded money and providing it to the ring, receiving 5 percent as compensation.
In handing down the ruling, the judge said on Thursday, “The manner in which he took advantage of the victims’ romantic feelings was nothing short of despicable, and the financial damage was enormous, with some of the victims losing more than 20 million yen, and others losing between several million yen and more than 10 million yen, not to mention the psychological damage caused by his playing on their romantic feelings.”
Born into a well-off family
According to previous reports, Morikawa was born into a well-off family with a university professor father. However, he fell into juvenile delinquency. He went on to carve out a successful business career in real estate but lost everything in the global financial crisis and eventually ended up in Ghana, which is where the ring was based. There he met the leader of the fraud ring while working at a hotel.
Morikawa is also said to have been a “key member” of the ring. The group is believed to have defrauded 65 Japanese men and women of a total of approximately 390 million yen. About eight Japanese men in the ring, including Morikawa, have been arrested.
Eight local Ghanaians also participated in the crime, including 34-year-old Nana Kofi Boateng. Nicknamed “The Blue Kofi,” he is on the run to the United States.
Born into a well-off family
For weekly tabloid Shukan Post (Dec. 15), non-fiction writer Takehide Mizutani interviewed Morikawa at the Osaka Detention Center in May. The following month, publisher Shogakukan released Mizutani’s book “Report: International Romance Fraud.”
“Nice to meet you,” Morikawa said upon encountering Mizutani. “I read the letter you sent me. You always come to the court hearings, right?”
Mizutani noted that Morikawa was wearing pajamas and had a sickly pale complexion. His eyes were baggy and, when he opened his mouth, it was clear that his front teeth were missing.
“I’m not a ‘key member’ or anything like that,” Morikawa continued. “Why do you believe what the police say? The media says [the total defrauded amount was] 400 million yen, but it’s actually less than 100 million, and I haven’t received any compensation.”
He went on to say that he dropped 20 kilograms while living in Ghana.
According to Mizutani, the number of victims of such frauds increased rapidly during the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, which began in 2020. Morikawa’s case is said to be the first to reveal the systematic involvement of Japanese nationals.
Of the 65 victims, 32 were the subject of the trial. Ranging in age from 40 to 65, they were comprised of 12 men and 20 women. The amount transferred by each victim ranged from about 100,000 yen to 23 million yen.
When asked about these details, Morikawa maintained his innocence. “I do not know the details [of the fraud] or what kind of communication took place between the perpetrators and the victims,” he said.
Belinda Smith, a professor at the Department of Sociology at the University of Ghana, tells Mizutani that most Ghanaian perpetrators of the crimes are young people in their late teens to mid-20s.
“They drop out of high school or go to university but are unable to get a good job, and the sense of disappointment in their future becomes the gateway to crime,” she says. “Feelings of guilt are also weak.”
She went on to say that this was the first case she had heard of whereby they had teamed up with foreigners from a developed country to carry out the crimes.