A few weeks ago I wrote a piece looking at Japan’s extraordinary asset bubble of the 1980s. Such bubbles always throw up some odd players. Locally we had a handful of corporate titans strutting around. Many of whom ended up broke, in jail, or both. Whilst looking up some material for the piece I came across the story of a Niu Onoue who is variously described as either a restauranteur or restaurant hostess. Japanese restaurants are a little different from those in the west in that there is often a hostess who can be thought of as a turbocharged front of house. It is their job to make certain all interactions with customers are smooth and harmonious. It is typical Japanese service – something you won’t find at all in Australia.
Here is what is extraordinary about Nui Onoue – during the asset bubble she somehow managed to acquire a reputation as somewhat of a stock trading savant and a fortune of $4.4US billion. At one time she was one of the wealthiest people in the world. Her wealth eclipsed that of Warren Buffet at the time. A remarkable achievement for someone whose restaurant apparently never made a profit. Her restaurant became a meeting place for not only the rich and famous but also members of the Yamaguchi-gumi – Japan’s largest Yakuza organisation.
How Onomue managed to acquire such a vast fortune is somewhat of a mystery but much of what is written points to a massive sophisticated fraud that was based upon the extraordinary lax lending laws that permeated the Japanese banking system at the time. It is also rumoured that her contacts within the Yakuza were very helpful in allowing her to participate in the ramping of stock prices. Onomue would use forged certificates of deposit and present them to other banks who in turn would end her vast sums of money.
Eventually, as the bubble unwound her fraud was discovered and she was sentenced to 12 years in prison where she died in 2014. The ramifications of her fraud were widespread with the Industrial Bank of Japan and Mizuho Corporate Bank no longer existing.