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Japan Steps Up its Efforts to Take Down Yakuza Crime Groups



Police in Japan Steps Up its Efforts to Take Down Yakuza Crime Groups

Japan’s justice department and police are stepping up its efforts to take down Yakuza crime groups in Tokyo and the rest of the county. This week a senior member of Japan ’s largest Yakuza crime group has been arrested on suspicion of murdering a man in a drunken argument. His arrest comes just days after the head of a rival Yakuza gang was sentenced to death for his role in one murder and the attempted killing of three other people.

Masaharu Abe, a 54-year-old member of the Yamaguchi-gumi crime group, was charged with beating the unnamed man in his apartment in Tokyo’s Edogawa district. The two men had been drinking.

His arrest follows the August 24 sentencing Satoru Nomura, the head of the notorious Kudo-kai Yakuza group. He was found guilty of one count of murder and three counts of attempted murder.

Campaign to destroy the Yakuza gangs

The court in the southern city of Fukuoka handed down the country’s first death sentence for the head of an organised crime group. The sentence comes even though the evidence against Nomura was largely circumstantial and relied on confessions by his underlings that they carried out attacks on his orders.

Jake Adelstein, an authority on Japanese Yakuza groups said the severity of the sentence underlines that prosecutors and the police are stepping up their efforts to “push the Yakuza into oblivion”.

He conceded, however, that while authorities will try to make Abe another example of their recent crackdown, a death sentence is unlikely.

The authorities have been really cracking down on the underworld for the last few years, although that campaign has slowed for a couple of reasons over the last year or so,” Adelstein said.

Now the Olympics has ended I am sure that we will now see the campaign to destroy the gangs ramp up again,” he said.

The effort has already paid dividends, with the Kudo-kai down from a peak of around 1,200 members in 2008 to just over 400 today. It is a similar story at other underworld groups, with the National Police Agency estimating there were 25,900 gang members across the country in 2020, down 70 per cent from 2010.

Yet Adelstein said it would be a mistake to count the most hardened Yakuza out entirely, a belief supported by the thinly veiled threats that Nomura made to the judge who sentenced him to death last week.

“You will regret this as long as you live,” Nomura said to judge Ben Adachi.

Even with the gang leader behind bars, the authorities are concerned that one of Nomura’s acolytes may read his comments as a chance to exercise ‘sontaku’ – carrying out an act of revenge and accepting responsibility to please the leader. Police have assigned bodyguards to the judge, other court officials and individuals who testified against Nomura in court.

“Those precautions are completely warranted,” said Adelstein, pointing out that the Kudo-kai is considered Japan’s most violent gang and is the only one designated a “grossly vicious group” by the police.

“It’s very possible that other members of the group will choose to interpret Nomura’s words in court as an order to target the judge and take it upon themselves to avenge him,” Adelstein said.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.

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