Nova founder faces trial

The founder of Japan’s failed language school chain Nova went on trial on Monday charged with embezzlement over a scandal that left thousands of foreign teachers without jobs.

Nova, whose schools were once ubiquitous across Japanese cities, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2007 after the government ordered it to halt part of its operations over insufficient refunds for students.

Founder Nozomu Sahashi was then accused of siphoning off 320 million yen (S$4.8 million) from a benefits fund set up through employee contributions.

At his first court hearing, Sahashi, 57, admitted to using the funds but only said: ‘I cannot make a judgement on whether it should be considered embezzlement.’

His defence lawyer, according to a report by Jiji Press, said Sahashi had ‘no intention of embezzling money’ and had spent more than 1.1 billion yen of his private money to run the company.

Before its collapse, Nova had an estimated 400,000 students and 6,000 employees, some 4,500 of them foreigners. Many teachers were young people looking to spend a few years in Japan.

Some foreign teachers even offered to give lessons for food after Nova’s collapse left them unemployed in one of the world’s most expensive countries.

Sahashi established Nova in 1981, tapping into a Japanese passion for language study by setting up schools with trademark blue-and-yellow signs across major cities.