Photo/IllutrationThe Kato Police Station in Hyogo Prefecture where about 30 Vietnamese were detained by immigration authorities on Sept. 11, 2018 (Hajime Hirokawa)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

KOBE--An apparent sting operation by immigration authorities here to round up illegal foreign overstayers backfired when the Chinese president of a personnel dispatch firm who cooperated in the crackdown was unwittingly arrested by police.

The man was arrested June 3 by Hyogo prefectural police on suspicion of aiding illegal foreign workers.

However, two days later the Kobe District Public Prosecutors Office released him without charges after it became apparent that he had cooperated with local immigration bureau officials.

A legal expert described the foul-up as a blatant "sting operation" gone wrong to round up a large number of illegal foreign nationals at one time.

Immigration authorities declined to discuss the case, but clearly tried to distance themselves from accusations they mounted a sting operation.

On June 7, an official with the Osaka Regional Immigration Bureau said no comment could be made about specific cases, but said that in general no instructions would be given to a company to continue employing foreigners who are in Japan illegally.

The company president, Suningbayaer, 35, stated after his release on June 7: "I never committed any illegal act because I was only cooperating with a request from the Osaka Regional Immigration Bureau. I believe the cause for the latest situation was insufficient communication between the Osaka Regional Immigration Bureau and the Hyogo prefectural police."

Suningbayaer heads World Business Partner, based in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture. He also goes by the Japanese name of Hajime Igarashi.

Suningbayaer ran afoul of the police June 3 over the dispatch of seven Vietnamese to work at a Hyogo plant manufacturing mobile phones between April and September 2018 even though the individuals were illegal overstayers or did not have proper visas.

The following day, Suningbayaer's lawyer, Kazuma Ogino, held a news conference to condemn his client's arrest.

According to Ogino, the matter dates back to around June last year when 10 or so Vietnamese applied for dispatch work with World Business Partner.

Sensing something was amiss, Suningbayaer went to the Osaka Regional Immigration Bureau and submitted copies of the residence status cards provided by the Vietnamese. The cards all turned out to be counterfeit.

But the immigration officer urged Suningbayaer to hire the Vietnamese anyway so that the immigration bureau could round up all illegal overstayers in a single sweep at the appropriate opportunity.

"Even if you reject the applications, they will only end up going to some other company," the immigration officer said.

Suningbayaer agreed, and along with others the company later hired, about 30 Vietnamese were dispatched to the plant from about July 2018 even though they did not have proper visas.

Coincidentally, other company officials began consulting with the regional immigration bureau around this time to lay the trap for rounding up the illegal overstayers.

As a result, on Sept. 11, 2018, the 30 or so Vietnamese found themselves being driven in two buses on a prearranged route that just happened to pass in front of the Kato Police Station, where officers were stopping vehicles to look for suspicious individuals. Immigration bureau officials detained the Vietnamese, who were later taken to an immigration facility.

At the June 4 news conference, Ogino and others released e-mails and recordings of phone conversations between company officials and immigration bureau officials. The e-mails revolved around exchanges between the two sides, such as a tip-off on the license plates of the vehicles carrying the Vietnamese as well as the times and locations of meetings held between the two parties.

After police searched Suningbayaer's home and other locations in March, a company executive phoned the regional immigration bureau and made a recording to the ensuing conversation.

A source with Hyogo prefectural police said the immigration bureau never contacted police about the meetings it held with World Business Partner.

In light of the fact the immigration bureau conspired to commit a crime, sources said prosecutors probably decided to release Suningbayaer before the case blew up in their faces.

Legal experts had harsh words for the immigration bureau, not only over the manner in which it drew Suningbayaer into the sting operation, but also for its negligence in keeping track of illegal foreign workers.

Shoichi Ibusuki, a lawyer who has handled many immigration cases, said the case was clearly a sting operation.

"If the criminal responsibility of the company president is to be questioned, then the responsibility of those asking for the cooperation must also be called into question," he said.

Ibusuki said the immigration bureau may have waited for a major roundup to show off as a result of its work rather than try to prevent such crimes in the first place.

Yoshihisa Saito, an associate professor at Kobe University specializing in Asian labor law, touched upon the fact that the Vietnamese detained were technical trainees who fled their earlier place of work.

Saito called those technical trainees "victims" because they were in a sense used and disposed of by companies that were not adequately supervised by immigration authorities.

(This article was written by Emi Iwata, Ryota Goto and Seishiro Igarashi.)