The term “Marusa,” meaning the investigation division of Japan’s National Tax Agency, was popularized by Juzo Itami’s brilliant 1987 comedy “Marusa no Onna” (A Taxing Woman), about a female investigator who doggedly pursued the operator of a chain of love hotels suspected of evading taxes.
With March 15 the deadline for filing individual income taxes, Flash (March 20) looks at this organization and its members’ tenacious attempts to squeeze more revenues from suspected tax cheats.
On the morning of Oct 9, 2008—while the world’s economy was teetering on the precipice with the failure of Lehman Brothers—the door intercom awakened 34-year-old entrepreneur Kiyoaki Isogai from slumber in his 800,000-yen per month apartment in Roppongi Hills Residence. From bed, he telephoned his younger sister in Saitama to ask her what was going on.
“Older brother, there’s a whole bunch of people from the tax office here, asking for you.”
Isogai, a former manager of a cabaret club, had parlayed money from his family’s scrap business into a sizable fortune in four years. Starting with an initial 1 million yen investment, he had earned more than 1 billion yen in profits in foreign exchange transactions, and on some days was piling on additional profits through interest swaps at up to 2 million yen per day.
He was in arrears of reporting his gains, which had brought down the wrath of the investigators.
Isogai stashed a two-kilogram gold ingot and some cash with an acquaintance who had been camped out at his apartment, and hid his bank passbook under the sofa pillows in the 18th floor reception lounge. He then sneaked out the back door of the building without being spotted. But an accountant with whom he was acquainted advised him to return to his apartment.
Then in marched the marusas, each with a specialized search assignment. One pored over his personal correspondence; one downloaded data from his PC; and others began a thorough search of the premises. When they got to the sofa cushions, a chill went down Isogai’s spine. They already knew his bank account balance; now they wanted the passbook, which Isogai had secreted in the lounge. He gave it up.
The apartment search finished, they carried out several cardboard boxes of materials and accompanied Isogai to the parking lot, where they went over his car with a fine toothed comb, including the spare tire well.
By this time 12 hours had passed and it was after 10 p.m., but Isogai was escorted to the tax office in Otemachi and grilled until 1 a.m.
A total of 250 investigators were involved in the search that day.
Isogai was slapped with a 35 million yen fine on criminal charges, and that was just the beginning. The tax office assessed he owed them a total of 160 million yen in income taxes, and 60 million yen in additional taxes. Plus a penalty of 50,000 yen per day for delinquent payment.
Now he lives in a tiny two-tatami mat room, attached to his workplace, with no bath. He washes his hair under the spigot in the sink and bathes with premoistened disposable wipes.
“I don’t do forex any more,” says the contrite Isogai. “And I work on Saturdays and Sundays. I’ll definitely pay everything I owe.”
Flash includes some actual photos of places where tax investigators uncovered people’s hidden assets, including bank notes in hollowed out manga; inside an electric thermos pot left in plain sight; in the protective cardboard case of unabridged dictionary; in the spare tire well of a car; in the crevice beneath a home elevator; in a pit excavated by a back hoe underneath a house; and in a safe secreted beneath a carpet in the conference room.
To keep the marusas at bay, the magazine also serves up five pieces of precautionary advice:
1: Don’t post items on your blog about your ostentatious lifestyle.
2: Falsifying your own records won’t work. Tax cheats are often uncovered when audits are conducted on others with whom they have business dealings.
3: Be careful when breaking off a love affair.
4: Foreign tax havens are not safe either.
5: Ownership of a high-priced foreign car raises the chances of being targeted for an investigation.