SpaceX passenger brought down to earth by tax evasion allegations

Japanese billionaire due to be Elon Musk’s first tourist to circle the moon

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket  at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, earlier this week. Photograph: New York Times Service

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, earlier this week. Photograph: New York Times Service

 

A Japanese billionaire’s astronomical ambitions to become the first tourist to circle the moon in Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket may have been tainted by that most terrestrial of foes: the inland revenue.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Yusaku Maezawa, the founder of the online retailer Zozotown, a sports car enthusiast and a renowned art collector, responded to Japanese media reports that he had been investigated for evading about ¥500m (€4.2 million) of taxes.

The reports, which first appeared in the Yomiuri newspaper, suggested that Mr Maezawa had failed to fully declare the personal use of a corporate jet owned by his asset management firm over a three-year period.

Japan’s national tax agency declined to comment.

But Mr Maezawa, whose reputation for defending himself robustly on social media is similar to that of Mr Musk, was quick to attack the reports. He said in a tweet on Wednesday that he wished to live in a country where people could live “with peace of mind” and secure in the knowledge that their secrets will not be leaked by the authorities to individual media.

“I will not run or hide, and I will spare no effort in paying my tax if you explain how they should be handled, so please make an efficient use of our taxes,” he wrote.

He concluded by pointing out that the Yomiuri had misspelt his name.

Punk rocker

Mr Maezawa’s rise to business stardom – from a member of a punk rock band to one of Japan’s richest entrepreneurs – has long been a source of fascination for tabloids, especially when it has involved one of his many romantic relationships with Japanese celebrities. The 44-year-old businessman became globally famous in 2017 after he paid $110.5 million (€100.2 million) to purchase Jean-Michel Basquiat’s painting known as Skull.

But he drew even greater global attention a year later when he responded to Mr Musk’s offer of an 800,000km round-trip of the moon on a rocket due to launch in 2023. Mr Maezawa plans to take a group of artists with him on the perilous voyage, though it is not yet clear who has agreed to accompany him.

At a joint press conference in 2018, Mr Musk described his prospective Japanese customer as “the bravest person and ... the best adventurer, I think”.

When asked at the time how much the moon ticket had cost, Mr Musk said the amount was a “material percentage” of the estimated $5 billion development cost of the rocket.

Last year, Mr Maezawa sold his stake in Zozotown to Yahoo Japan for $3.7 billion and stepped down as chief executive to prepare for his trip to the Moon. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020