By: John Berthelsen

Nobuyoshi Fujisawa, the president and chief executive officer of the beleaguered Tokyo-based J Trust Ltd financial group, has quietly acquired citizenship in Cyprus, a dicey move as Japanese nationals are forced to renounce their citizenship if they acquire foreign passports.

Cyprus has become a bolt-hole for a long list of super-rich individuals looking for a place to hide themselves and their money including billionaire Russian oligarchs and others accused of corruption.  The country’s openness to emigres who arrive with nothing more than a pocketful of cash through the co-called golden visa scheme has alarmed Cyprus’s European Union partners, who are concerned over the secrecy surrounding the process and the fact that the Cypriot visas give the newly minted citizens the ability to move freely between EU countries.

That doesn’t mean Fujisawa, formerly listed by Forbes as one of Japan’s 50 richest men, has emigrated because he is the target of a criminal investigation. However, the Singapore-based J Trust Asia, a unit of J Trust Japan, and the hire purchase firm Group Lease Thailand are involved in a nasty legal squabble involving at least US$180 million that is playing itself out in a series of hostile legal maneuvers in Bangkok, Singapore and the British Virgin Islands. 

At the same time, JTrust Bank in Indonesia has been named in a massive lawsuit brought by the Mauritius-based Weston International Capital, charging the bank with complicity in laundering hundreds of millions of dollars out of Indonesia and to the Cyprus-based arm of the notorious FBME, which was shut down by US authorities in 2017.

Among J Trust Japan’s major international investors are  BlackRock, Fidelity Investments, Dimensional Fund Advisers, Invesco, the California Public Employees Retirement System, or CalPERS, and the Seattle, Washington-based Taiyo Pacific investment fund, whose chief investment officer was Wilbur Ross, who later became US Secretary of Commerce under President Donald Trump.  

Fujisawa’s passport, numbered K00289204, was acquired through the international law firm Henley & Partners Holdings Ltd, according to records made available to Asia Sentinel. It is not certain when the passport was issued, although Fujisawa obtained a bank reference letter from UBS in Tokyo on March 24, 2016, informing the Bank of Cyprus that the J Trust executive was a depositor in good standing. The 48-year-old Fujisawa seems to have made other lifestyle changes as well, divorcing his previous wife and marrying the 35-year-old Yuri Aibu in December.

Nationality is a touchy issue in Japan. Under 1985 revisions of Japan’s Nationality Law, articles 14 and 15 require those with dual nationality to choose between the two within two years of acquiring a second passport. If the required declaration is delayed more than a month, nationality is automatically revoked. 

According to an advisory from Henley & Partners, the Cypriot government in September 2016 introduced changes to its citizen-by-investment program to allow full citizen ship to those who invest more than €2 million in real estate or who meet certain other requirements such as purchasing, establishing or participating in Cypriot businesses or companies or investing in alternative investment funds or financial assets of Cypriot organizations licensed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

According to two articles in The Guardian, one of those who obtained a golden visa is Rami Makhloufi, the cousin of Syrian president Bashir Al Assad, who was placed under US sanctions over allegations that he had benefited from corruption. Among the dozens of others are said to be Leonid Lebedev, a former member of the Russian parliament and the sole owner of the Sintez Group, whose personal wealth is estimated by Forbes to be more than US$1.2 billion. Another is said to be Alexander Ponomarenko, a Russian industrialist worth an estimated US$3 billion.

Many of the other purchasers of visas are said to be “politically exposed persons” – individuals entrusted with prominent public duties who may be exposed to a higher risk of potential involvement in bribery or corruption by their position and their influence.  

According to the Guardian story, the anti-corruption NGO Global Witness has demanded tougher checks in response to findings involving the Cypriot golden visas. “All countries offering golden visas must make sure the lure of investment doesn’t mean a race to the bottom on values,” Global Witness said in a prepared statement. “That means ensuring the sharpest of checks on applications and safeguards on the process.”

According to records in Japan, Fujisawa was the President of Livedoor Credit Co Ltd, Livedoor Services Co, Livedoor Factoring Co Ltd and Kazaka Services, now Partir Services Ltd.  J Trust purportedly specialized in buying up distressed bankrupt concerns like Takefuji Corp., another consumer lending company that went under in 2010 with the equivalent of US$5.1 billion in liabilities. J Trust has emerged as a rebranded Southeast Asian vulture fund.