TT-536 -- The Savoie child abduction case, ebiz news from Japan

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A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, October 4, 2009 Issue No. 536


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On September 28th this last week, news starting emerging on
CNN and several other media about an American dad who was
arrested in Fukuoka for trying to abduct his kids back, after his
Japanese ex-wife had first abducted them from him in the USA.
The Dad, 38-year old Chris Savoie, is now in jail in Fukuoka for
some indeterminate period, while the police try to extract a
confession from him.

Well... at least we think this is what is going on, because as
many readers will know, the police can keep a suspect in
detention for months for questioning, with very limited
access to a lawyer, until they think the case is ready to
send to the courts. This process is partly the reason why
Japan has a successful conviction rate (versus a relatively
low prosecution rate) in the 99%+ range.

Chris Savoie is not a wet-behind-the-ears foreigner who
knows nothing about Japan and its customs. Indeed, he has
led a highly successful business career here, and amongst
other things built a pharmaceutical business called GNI in
Fukuoka that went on to do an IPO on the Mothers market in
September 2007. He is a strong Japanese speaker, has a PhD,
and according to press reports naturalized as a Japanese
national several years ago. So his being in jail is both a
surprise and then again it isn't.

[Continued below...]

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No one other than Savoie himself knows what was going
through his mind when he had a friend drive a car along
side his ex-wife and two children, aged 6 and 8, while they
were walking to school. However, according to reports he
jumped out of the vehicle, bundled the kids into the car
and raced to the U.S. Consul's compound in Fukuoka. This
was a big mistake, because at the compound he was not
allowed entry by the guards, and since his ex-wife had
already alerted the police, they soon arrived on the scene
and nabbed both him and the kids.

While we don't know what Savoie was thinking, we do know
the facts surrounding his decision to try to get his kids
1. His wife is on record in a U.S. divorce court as
stating that she would not abduct the kids, despite
Savoie's fears that this might happen.
2. She did abduct the kids and she clearly didn't expect
to return them to the U.S. Indeed, she was taking them to
school, meaning that they weren't just on holiday.
3. As readers will know from our previous commentary on
this subject (,
there are NO recorded cases of U.S.-Japanese kids abducted
from the U.S. being returned to the custodial parent in the
U.S. by court action, and only 3 that were mutually
resolved between the parties. This among 102 open cases of
abduction known to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, and possibly
several thousand unreported cases which have probably
happened over the last ten years.
4. Previous cases we have heard of indicate that it is not
a crime for a spouse to take the kids into hiding in Japan.
The idea being that the abductor waits until the kids
acclimate to them, before resurfacing. If the kids have
been with that abducting spouse for more than a year, then
typically judges will award that spouse custody on the
basis that the kids should have a "stable home life" and
better to have them not experience another major change.
Until now that's been the pattern of rulings, anyway.
5. While joint custody may be legally allowed in Japan,
there has been no tradition nor legal enforcement of joint
custody arrangements. So if a spouse, almost always the
Japanese spouse, has possession of the kids and doesn't
want the other parent to see them, then the left-behind
spouse can't.

Given that Savoie has probably been aware of the legal
situation, it is not so surprising that he attempted to
get his kids back by taking preemptive action. He will
have realized that the Family courts in Japan would pay no
heed to his U.S. custodial rights (he has sole custody)
and that Japan is well known globally as a destination for
child abductors, not all of whom are Japanese. If he wanted
to see his kids again, kidnapping them back again was about
all he really could do. Otherwise he would have joined the
ranks of hundreds of other left-behind parents who
desperately miss their kids and can't do anything about it.
They are powerless in the face of a 19th century judicial
values system.

But what is surprising is that he chose to get his kids
back in a way that exposed him to many untested theories.
One of these theories has been that it is OK to abduct
your kids back. Indeed the police often do turn a blind
eye to home disputes and will allow "mini-abductions" to
happen. There was a case some years ago where Chinese
American Samuel Lui tried, like Savoie, to abduct his
child back on the streets of Osaka. Like Savoie, he also
had sole custody rights awarded in the USA. Lui failed in
his attempt, subsequently turning himself in to the Osaka
police, who after questioning him for a day, rapped his
knuckles and effectively said, "Don't do it again."

But in trying to regain possession of your kids, once
trespass and violence or threat of violence are used, that
is where a person steps over the line. Savoie must have
known that the police here can pretty much arrest people
whenever they want. If we'd been him, and were committed to
such a drastic action, we would have used our local
contacts to hide out for a while and figured out how to
get the kids out of the country. As a Japanese, if he'd
successfully kept off the police radar for more than 6
months, he might have even been able to apply to the courts
for sole custody in Japan and have gotten away with it.

In the last couple of days, details surrounding Savoie's
divorce have emerged that paint him in a less than
flattering light. In particular he seems to have been
engaged in an affair with a person who has since become his
new wife, and that this probably occurred around the same
time he brought his ex-wife and kids to the USA. Comments
of disgust about his possible manipulation of the ex-wife
abound on U.S. comment boards of major news sites carrying
stories about the case.

HOWEVER, again, we can only speculate about what really
happened, and until the facts are made public, we can
probably assume that Savoie was acting logically throughout
-- in that he was trying to get his soon-to-be ex-wife and
kids into a jurisdiction (the U.S.) where the law protects
BOTH parents rights and upholds the concept of joint
custody. Whether his behavior is cruel or is manipulative
is beside the point. Savoie would have known that if his
divorce was contested in Japan, he would have been 100%
guaranteed to have lost his kids, and would have been at
the whim of his wife whether or not he would be able to see
them ever again as children.

This situation is caused by the Japanese judiciary's
refusal to accept that divorced parents should have equal
access to their children. The view of most judges (based
on interviews with judges that we have done in the past) is
that kids need to be insulated from the hurt between
divorcing parents by giving them just one care-giver. But
this is a traditional view and has no basis in fact. Child
psychologists outside Japan generally agree that kids
need the love and attention of both parents, even if they
are divorced. Splitting the kids from one parent naturally
causes them to side with the other (Parental Alienation
Syndrome: PAS), which causes them to have complexes
about the missing parent later in life.

PAS also works in reverse, because as the left-behind
parent gets alienated, they simply stop paying child
support, causing poverty and depression for the
(typically) single-mother family. The fact is that if the
Dads are not encouraged to feel a connection to their kids,
and given that Japanese family law courts have little or no
power to enforce child support judgments, then why would
ex-Dads feel like paying for offspring who won't even
acknowledge them as a parent? Yes, the law says they should
pay, but given the lack of legal enforcement, building a feeling
of responsibility by the Dads is the only other way to get the
money flowing again.

This situation is wrong and needs fixing.

Since there appears to be little will by the judiciary to
change their ways or values, any change in the status quo
needs to be a political one -- using outside political
pressure ("Gaiatsu"). This is a long-term project
unfortunately, but it does give us a possible motive why an
otherwise intelligent individual such as Savoie may have
been driven to try kidnap his kids when such an undertaking
would have such a high possibility for failure.

Finally, our take is that what he did is not right, but
under the current legal system, it is understandable. We
think similar incidents will happen again until things


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+++ NEWS

- Sacred Heart principal done for drugs
- Powerful new motor needs no rare earth magnets
- More than 1/3 businessmen think double dip likely
- Deflation continues apace

-> Sacred Heart principal done for drugs

It's not often that a 59 year old principal of a Catholic
kindergarten/junior school gets arrested for drugs, and in
Japan perhaps it has never happened before. Unfortunately
for Sacred Heart, their junior school principal proved to
be the first such case. The principal and her husband have
apparently admitted the possession charge and are in
detention for questioning. (Source: TT commentary from, Oct 3, 2009)

-> Powerful new motor needs no rare earth magnets

Air conditioner manufacturer Daikin, in conjunction with
the Osaka Prefecture University, has created a high-power
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Japanese, because if ferrite magnetic motors have enough
torque to drive an electric car, Japan will not have to be
beholden to the Chinese for supplies of rare earth
materials.** (Source: TT commentary from,
Oct 2, 2009)

-> More than 1/3 businessmen think double dip likely

A Nikkei survey of top business executives has found a high
level of pessimism over the future of the global and
domestic economies. According to the Nikkei, 38% of pollees
said that they strongly or somewhat agreed with the notion
that there would be a double-dip recession. The most common
reason given for thinking this was that the fiscal stimulus
spending by the government was wearing off. Asked about
timing, almost half of the pessimists said Q1 next year.
Apparently only 20% of pollees thought that the risk of a
double dip recession was not high. (Source: TT commentary
from, Oct 4, 2009)

-> Deflation continues apace

Government data on consumer prices shows that deflation is
an ongoing challenge for the economy, and may prove to be
a taste of what the USA is in for in the future. The
Japanese CPI fell 2.2% year-on-year in August. Top of the
10 categories measured was transportation and
communications costs, which fell 7.6%, followed by
furniture which fell by 3.1%. Food was down 0.1%. ***Ed:
The deflation story is of course reflected in the fortunes
of the "deflation accelerators", such as Fast Retailing,
whose Uniqlo brand's same store sales were up an astounding
31.6% in September, over the same month last year.**
(Source: TT commentary from, Sep 28, 2009)

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.

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In this section we run comments and corrections submitted
by readers. We encourage you to spot our mistakes and
amplify our points, by email, to

*** In TT534, we looked at the likelihood that foreigners
not on some sort of compulsory health insurance may
wind up not being able to get their visas renewed.

=> A reader writes: I'm just 65 and shortly after my birthday
this year I started getting bills from the Setagaya City
Hall for Kaigo Hoken of yen 6,500 every month. I do not
subscribe to any of the Japanese health or pension plans so
I guess this is just a straight Aged Tax (especially
fitting to note on this particular day of the year - yes?
Or perhaps another example of the left hand not knowing
what the right hand is doing...

I have 4 questions that weren't covered in your piece:
1. From the government's view, are they: a) primarily just
digging for a new revenue source and any benefits accruing
to the new, forced non-Japanese subscribers is secondary?
Or, b) are they really concerned for those with no
insurance? If the 2nd case, then why is there no provision
for private insurance coverage which would answer this
2. I have heard that if you join the national health plan
that they can charge you two years worth of back-payments
if you've been here for two years or more. (I had a friend
who had this happen about 5 years ago.)
3. What about people with permanent residence status? These
have to be "renewed" (updated?) every so many years. Is the
lack of membership in a medical insurance program going to
be grounds for losing permanent residence?
4. Is this primarily about the health plan or are they
also planning to include joining the pension plans as a
requirement as well? (My wife is 49, Japanese, and is
convinced there won't be anything there to collect anyway
when she reaches 65.)

=> We respond:
1. Our guess is that the government wants new revenue, and
foreigners are easy to go after. We can't complain nor vote
them out of office, so this is easy to do. Further, most
foreigners go home before they need health care, so we
doubt it's about giving those of us who need it any extra

2. Two years back payments is a guideline that we've heard
before. We're making inquiries to see if it's the law.

3. Regards Permanent Residence. Well, this is the thing.
Where the person is married to a Japanese, there are no
cases we're aware of (except maybe deportation for crimes)
where the spouse has been sent home for misdemeanors. Doing
so would contravene various human rights international
treaties that Japan has signed. We assume that there will
be a number of PR's contesting this new rule, and that
these people will wind up being given a reprieve, while
being exhorted to do the right thing and to sign up.

4. Right now the attention is on the Health payments. Don't
ask why they didn't include pension -- but you can be sure
that it's coming soon. Maybe they're worried that if they
push too hard, foreigners will start pointing out that they
can only receive 3 years of their pension contributions as a
refund if they leave Japan before 25 years is up (and then
they can start collecting that pension).

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