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Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Joint action a bid to spot murders for benefits
Insurers to boost police info access in shady deaths
By AYAKO MIE
The nation's life insurers will join in creating a system to provide police with information regarding the status of policyholders in cases involving suspicious deaths in which foul play may have been involved, including cases involving benefit payouts of a dubious nature.
The National Police Agency said in a report that it believes being able to check the status of people's insurance coverage will contribute to curbing misjudgments regarding the cause of death or in the ordering of postmortems.
At present, if someone dies in a manner deemed suspicious by police, they will try to ascertain, by directly approaching insurance firms, if the deceased was insured and who may stand to gain as a beneficiary.
Police made referrals to insurers in connection with 7,400 deaths of indeterminate cause in 2011, or about 35 percent of the 20,700 unresolved deaths, according to the NPA.
To assist police investigations, the Life Insurance Association of Japan said it will set up a system to consolidate the coverage data of the 43 life insurers and provide information to authorities — such as when the deceased was insured and the amount a designated beneficiary would stand to receive — when police solicit such information.
By increasing accessibility to insurance data, the number of inquiries by police is expected to surge fourfold to some 27,000 when the new system takes effect next April, the NPA estimates.
The introduction of the new system comes at a time when the NPA is stepping up efforts to look into and identify underlying factors in a suspicious death, including the possibility that a murder took place for an insurance money.
In an April 2011 report on apparent undetected murders, the NPA admitted that 14 of 43 cases they failed to identify as crimes between 1998 and 2010 could have properly been ruled murders for insurance had the police queried life insurers about the coverage status of the deceased.
Only later did the police find out that the deceased had been insured for life coverage shortly before dying, and that the beneficiary of that policy had recently become married to or adopted by the victim, the report said.
Other reasons why police failed to detect murders include the nation's very low autopsy rate. In the same report, the agency explained that the shortage of doctors specializing in postmortems is a major reason for the low rate. Currently, autopsies are performed only on 11 percent of bodies handled by police. The report said the government is aiming to boost that to 20 percent.
To increase the incidence of autopsies, the Diet passed two bills Friday enabling police to conduct postmortems with or without the permission of the next of kin if the cause of death is suspicious or undetermined.