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Wednesday, March 9, 2005
Trailblazing debt collector avoids prison
By TOMOKO OTAKE
An American businessman who aspired to clean up Japan's often shady business of debt collection received a suspended sentence Tuesday for collecting debts without a license.
Judge Keiki Komorida at the Tokyo District Court sentenced Steven Gan, president of Advance & Associates Co., to a year in prison, suspended for three years, for collecting 17.8 million yen in debts in arrears between 2000 and 2004 without being a lawyer or an accredited debt collection "servicer." Gan's company was also ordered to pay 1 million yen in fines.
Gan, 48, pleaded guilty to all charges. Prosecutors had demanded a one-year prison term and a fine of 1 million yen for Advance & Associates.
The U.S. certified public accountant was arrested last fall amid mounting pressure from three lawyer groups in Tokyo that were asking the state get tough on nonlawyers doing lawyerlike work.
The groups filed a criminal complaint about Gan's collection activities with the Tokyo Public Prosecutor's Office in March 2004.
"The defendant had been aware" that nonservicers and nonlawyers were barred from collecting debts on behalf of clients, but "got into believing that his actions could be determined as not illegal," the judge said.
"His motives and the events leading up to his actions (show he was) greedy, short-sighted and self-centered."
He said he decided to suspend the sentence because Gan pleaded guilty, shown remorse in court and pledged that he would no longer engage in debt collection.
Gan said after the ruling that he would not appeal.