Fujitsu admits "moral obligation" in U.K. Post Office scandal redress

Fujitsu Ltd. said Tuesday it has a "moral obligation" to compensate the victims of a financial scandal in Britain which led to hundreds of post office operators being wrongly accused of embezzlement.

Answering questions in the House of Commons, Fujitsu's Europe director Paul Patterson apologized to the postal staff for the "appalling miscarriage of justice" caused by faulty software provided by Fujitsu.

He said, "We were involved from the very start. We did have bugs and errors in the system. And we did help Post Office Ltd. in their prosecutions of subpostmasters. For that we are truly sorry."

Addressing the chamber's business and trade committee, Patterson said there is a "moral obligation" for the Japanese technology giant to compensate the subpostmasters.

But he indicated that the level of compensation could be determined by a public inquiry into the affair as well as discussions with the British government.

Giving evidence, Patterson confirmed Fujitsu provided data to Post Office for prosecutions and that Post Office itself was aware of bugs and errors in the system.

He said he did not know exactly when Fujitsu became aware of the problems, but there were issues with the software at an early stage. Patterson did not know why the company failed to take action when it became aware of the errors.

He also confirmed that Fujitsu could access the accounting software remotely, despite Post Office denials.

The problems in the accounting software, from the 1990s into the 2010s, caused the balances at postal stores to appear lower than the actual amounts and suggested the operators were stealing money.

More than 700 people faced charges of alleged embezzlement or accounting fraud between 1999 and 2015, and at least four killed themselves after the balances displayed in the system were found to be lower than the actual amount of cash at their workplaces. Of those found guilty, 93 people have had their convictions overturned.

Some of the accused went bankrupt after they were required to pay the discrepancies.

In 2019, the system failures were confirmed in a civil suit ruling.

The plight of the victims was recently highlighted by a TV drama, causing the issue to rise in the news agenda and capture the public's attention.

Due to the growing outcry, the government plans to introduce new legislation to clear the names of all the post office staff who have been falsely accused.

The government has disbursed money to those wrongly accused, but in recent days the focus has shifted to Fujitsu and how it should compensate the victims.

The scandal has also led politicians to question why the electronics giant still has many IT contracts with the British government.

In Britain, Post Office has more than 10,000 stores nationwide that handle postal work and sell merchandise. Post Office introduced the Fujitsu accounting system, called Horizon, in the 1990s.

There is currently a public inquiry looking into the scandal and it is due to report its findings later this year.

© Kyodo News