Friday, August 8, 2008

"Lawyers Want More Power to Combat Yakuza

"Sixteen years after the introduction of the much-vaunted anti-organized crime law, yakuza gangs continue to wield enormous influence in Japan.

"Yakuza involvement in almost every aspect of crime raises serious questions about the effectiveness of the 1992 legislation.

"When a mayor is shot dead, when profits are siphoned from conmen, or when major drug trafficking operations are carried out, the perpetrators almost invariably seem to have ties to underground crime syndicates.

"Gangs continue to brandish guns, threaten citizens and play a cat-and-mouse game with police, making a mockery of the supposed crackdown by providing false tips.

"They extort "protection" money from shop operators and are often involved in loan sharking, human trafficking and illegal land deals. They have even been linked to stock price manipulation and vote-buying attempts during elections.

"After a temporary drop in gang membership around 1995, their numbers increased again to 84,200 in 2007, including "associate members."

"Some lawyers are calling for stronger regulations to dismantle criminal organizations.

"Yoshihiro Mitsui, chairman of the Committee on Anti-Racketeering of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA), is one who says anti-yakuza steps taken so far "have had no effect."

""Criminal organizations openly exist within civil society or business society. It's abnormal," said the lawyer, 56, who was once stabbed by a gangster during a yakuza-eviction campaign.

"Whether the crackdown has been tight enough or not, yakuza are at least increasingly strapped for money, leading to a pent-up frustration within their groups, according to police sources.

"A letter received by the National Police Agency and the Metropolitan Police Department in May was indicative of this frustration.

"Signed a "Whistle-blower in Yamaguchi-gumi," the letter pointed a finger at the group's No. 2 man, Kiyoji Takayama.

"Yamaguchi-gumi is the nation's largest crime syndicate with 39,000 members and associate members.

"The letter alleged Takayama "took hundreds of millions of yen from senior members by way of mah-jongg."

"It also said he was "lining his pockets by forcing affiliated groups to purchase daily necessities at exorbitant prices."

"If such acts are overlooked, the letter said, the organization would collapse.

"It remains unknown whether the allegations are true, but police sources believe the letter was written by someone who is genuinely connected to the Yamaguchi-gumi.

"Takayama, 60, is a right-hand man to Kenichi Shinoda, 66, who assumed the Yamaguchi-gumi's top post in July 2005.

"Known in the yakuza world as Shinobu Tsukasa, Shinoda has been serving a prison term since December 2005 for violations of the gun and sword control law.

"Takayama has since effectively taken the reins of the huge underground syndicate.

"It is said that subordinate groups are required to pay 500,000 yen to 1 million yen a month to higher ranking groups. In addition, the headquarters force them to buy mineral water, towels and other everyday items.

"Selling illegal drugs would rake in easy money, but the headquarters prohibit involvement for fear of a crackdown. Many gangs are, therefore, said to be facing a chronic lack of funds.

"One thrifty group has made all members subscribe to the same cellphone carrier so they can make free calls among themselves.

"Even if gangsters have a pent-up frustration, breaking ranks would invite "punishment." So they give vent to their discontent not within the group but outside.

""A typical example is the fatal shooting of the Nagasaki mayor in April last year," said a source close to the issue.

"Mayor Iccho Itoh was shot while campaigning for re-election by a senior member of a group directly affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi.

"Tetsuya Shiroo, who was sentenced to death in the Nagasaki District Court in May, is said to have had trouble paying dues to his gangland superiors.

"Nagasaki city's refusal to yield to his demand for money, as well as reforms to the city's tender system, added to his frustration.

"The case was one of 65 shooting incidents in 2007 that claimed 21 victims, including the mayor. Of the 65 cases, 41 involved gangsters.

"Investigators say it is difficult to prevent further incidents while efforts to rid gangs of guns remain stalled. Phone tapping

"Back in April 1997, the National Police Agency produced an in-house manual for investigating cases involving guns. It called for phone taps and the use of informants within gang groups.

"It was three years before the law on communications interception during criminal investigation took effect in 2000.

"The handbook advises investigators to sever ties with informants who show any signs of betrayal.

""If such ties come out to the fore, we will be a target of gang attacks along with our informants," a former investigator said.

"It is difficult, the investigator said, to produce results through such relations as there is no assurance police will "watch over" them and informants forever.

"At the same time, yakuza groups often use members posing as informants to send false tips to police.

""Imagine how stupid police look when they raid our offices (on a false tip) and find no gun at all," said a yakuza source.

"Last year, police nationwide confiscated 231 guns from gangs, only about 30 percent of the number seized in 1997.

"Police resorted to phone tapping in 29 cases from 2000 to 2007.

"Phone tapping is allowed under the law for four types of crime: drugs, organizational murder, guns and large-scale smuggling of illegal immigrants.

"Of the 29 cases, 28 were drug-related, and one involved murder. None involved guns.

"A senior police official said interception was difficult, both technically and legally, since the law imposes stringent conditions on allowing police to eavesdrop on communications.

"These and other difficulties have led lawyers' groups to argue in favor of revisions to give real teeth to anti-gang laws.

"A group within the Chiba Bar Association has proposed its own reform plan. It says the current anti-organized crime law, which "designated" organizations to regulate, has ironically given prestige to targeted yakuza groups.

"Rather, the group argues, it is "necessary to revise laws so that gangs will be forced to dissolve themselves."

"Under its plan, the law should clearly state gangs are illegal entities and enable the public safety commission to order their dissolution.

"Specifically, a gang will be given a certain number of points based on the criminal acts committed by its members. When the total reaches a given threshold, it will be ordered to dissolve itself.

"That would certainly drive such large syndicates as the Yamaguchi-gumi and its rivals, Inagawa-kai and Sumiyoshi-kai, swiftly into a corner.

"About 15,000 members of the Yamaguchi-gumi are arrested each year, while about 4,000 are caught from each of the other two organizations.

"But the National Police Agency is less than enthusiastic about the proposals.

""They would just pretend to dissolve themselves and go underground," a source said. Others are worried that such a provision would come under fire as infringing upon freedom of association.

"But Mitsui, the head of the JFBA anti-racketeering panel, is set to propose new steps for tougher control and investigations, taking the Chiba group's idea into consideration.

""We must think of measures to make it unprofitable to remain being a gang," he said."

By Kenji Ogata, Asahi Shimbun (8/8/2008), Link to article (last visited 8/8/2008)

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