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Taken as a whole, the yakuza are among the world's largest and most powerful criminal confederations. The yakuza are highly structured and criminally diverse organizations that have thoroughly penetrated Japanese society, including the legitimate economic sphere, through their extortion-like practice of "sokaiya."

US President Obama identified the Japanese Yakuza criminal network as a significant transnational criminal organizations [TCO] in the Annex to E.O. 13581 on July 24, 2011, and charged the Treasury Department with pursuing additional sanctions against its members and supporters to undermine and interdict their global criminal operations.

The Yakuza has relationships with criminal affiliates in Asia, Europe, and the Americas, where it uses front companies in legitimate industries, including construction, real estate, and finance, to launder money and hide illicit proceeds. In the United States, the Yakuza has been involved in drug trafficking and money laundering.

Yakuza syndicates are composed of groups tiered in a pyramidal structure, where the head family is comprised of members who are bosses of second-tier groups. The senior executives of second-level groups are in turn bosses of third-tier groups.

There are an estimated 3,000 yakuza groups and subgroups based in Japan. According to Japan's National Police Agency, 60 percent of the estimated 90,000 members and associates of yakuza families are affiliated with one of three groups: the Yamaguchi-Gumi, Sumiyoshi-Kai, and Inagawa-Kai. These groups control most organized criminal activity in Japan, including gun trafficking, drug smuggling, alien smuggling, prostitution, illegal gambling, extortion, and white-collar crime through infiltration of legitimate businesses.

Academic specialists on Japanese organized crime have estimated the annual revenue of the yakuza at about $13 billion. While most of their criminal operations are in Japan, yakuza groups have established a presence throughout Asia, Australia, and the Western Hemisphere. The yakuza have used their international networks primarily to acquire narcotics, guns, or illegal immigrants-- particularly women for prostitution--for the Japanese market.

Yakuza groups acquire most of their heroin and methamphetamine from Chinese criminal groups in Taiwan and Hong Kong and may have established relationships with South American trafficking organizations for obtaining cocaine. China, Taiwan, and Russia are major sources of firearms for the yakuza; Japanese police officials have estimated that 90 percent of the illegal weapons seized each year come from overseas because of Japan's strict gun control laws. The yakuza also rely on their international connections for illegal aliens to work in the prostitution, entertainment, and construction enterprises they control in Japan.

Some of the Chinese migrants smuggled into Japan continue on to the United States, but there is only fragmentary evidence indicating that yakuza groups are directly involved in smuggling illegal aliens into the US. Although most yakuza criminal relationships overseas are used to facilitate their own criminal activities, some yakuza families are establishing more longterm alliances with other international crime organizations. The Russian connection appears to be particularly important to yakuza groups; in 1992 the Japanese press reported that the head of the Yamaguchi-Gumi had announced his intention to establish working relationships with the Russian mafia. Russia has become a major source of firearms and prostitutes, and a growing source of drugs, for the Japanese yakuza. The establishment of regular flights between major Japanese and Russian cities and relaxed travel restrictions are likely to facilitate long-term ties between Russian and Japanese crime groups.

Over the years, Japanese crime syndicates have exploited their traditional roles in arbitrating disputes and loan collection to gain a wide measure of public acceptance. The yakuza's practice of "sokaiya," corporate extortion, often by threatening to disrupt corporate shareholders meetings, has been generally tolerated by Japanese society, despite the economic influence it has given organized crime. Their role in local communities has sometimes placed the yakuza in a better position than the government to respond to civic emergencies, such as when they responded more quickly and efficiently than the Japanese Government in bringing relief aid to victims of the 1996 earthquake in Kobe. The yakuza have also benefitted from historically weak anti-crime legislation and limited law enforcement investigative authority. By adhering to rules of conduct that preclude violence against the police and innocent civilians, Japanese crime syndicates traditionally have been able to operate largely in the open, including highlighting the location of their headquarters in local communities.

The yakuza were able to cash in on Japan's economic and real estate boom in the 1980s to expand their profit-making activities beyond their traditional criminal arenas of drugs, gambling, prostitution, and corporate extortion. Housing loan companies, jusen, that were affiliated with major Japanese banks reportedly issued a portion of their loans, many of which were not repaid, to yakuza-tied firms as part of the speculative boom in real estate in the 1980s. As a result, the yakuza were behind many of the problem loans leading to the 1996 collapse of the jusen mortgage industry. One expert on Japanese crime believes that yakuza interests may have directly accounted for 10 percent of the banking industry's bad loans, which he estimated as high has $700 billion, and an additional 30 percent of the bad loans may have been indirectly tied to yakuza affiliations.(3) The president of a Japanese corporation assigned to help collect the bad debts stated in 1998 that yakuza-affiliated companies tied to billions of dollars of bad debt were the most formidable obstacle to recovering those loans. In some cases, the yakuza sought to block the disposal of real estate assets that underlie the bad loans.

Although information is limited, press accounts indicate it is very likely that the yakuza have links to Japanese Government officials and have influenced some government decisions. Few of these incidents are widely publicized. In November 1997, however, yakuza connections to sokaiya scandals involving major Japanese banks and similar related allegations against members of the powerful Finance Ministry were widely reported in the Japanese media.

Despite the longstanding tradition of tolerance for the yakuza, the Japanese have become less accepting of organized crime activities in recent years, primarily because of public concerns about increasing street crime and drug abuse, rather than the yakuza role in the financial crisis and banking scandals. "Anti-yakuza" legislation implemented in the early 1990s and updated in 1997, such as recently implemented legislation allowing wiretaps in some criminal investigations and a nationwide crackdown on sokaiya, appears to have helped curb some organized crime activities. Despite the yakuza, ethnic Chinese criminal gangs linked to illegal immigration, drug smuggling, and arms trafficking are publicly perceived as the most serious criminal threats to Japan.

One of the most significant threats posed by Japanese organized crime groups is their investment in legitimate businesses in foreign countries to launder proceeds from their criminal operations in Japan. The yakuza reportedly have invested heavily in US and Canadian real estate, ranging from golf courses to hotels. By playing the stock market, yakuza groups have also laundered criminal proceeds through US financial institutions, according to US law enforcement. Japanese criminal activity in the United States has primarily involved fraud and money-laundering activity. The Inagawa-Kai yakuza crime group, which is involved in drug and arms trafficking, extortion, investment frauds, and money laundering, has invested heavily in Hawaii and the states on the west coast of the United States.

Japans largest organized crime syndicate, Yamaguchi-gumi, has been involved in all sorts of criminal activities from prostitution networks and gambling business to money extortion and fraud. The Yamaguchi-Gumi group, which includes 900 affiliated gangs throughout Japan, runs extensive prostitution rings that prey on women from Latin America, Russia, and Southeast Asia. Yamaguchi-gumi has a website which was intended to assist the authorities anti-drug efforts. The gangs godfather Kozuo Taoka reportedly holds that narcotics should be eliminated from society. The website has lots of photos and videos, some of them showing the gangs members helping quake-stricken residents in the Fukushima prefecture in 2011.

The website is probably an attempt by the yakuza to counter their image of being "anti-social" by showing how neighborly they are and recruit fresh blood, experts say, the International Business Times reports. The number of yakuza supporters has remarkably dropped. Jake Aldenstein, a US investigative reporter and the author of numerous articles about the yakuza, thinks that by launching its own website, the gang sought to demonstrate its readiness to benefit society, help the weak and fight the strong. In 2013 Yamaguchi-gumi began issuing a magazine, distributed among its members. It has a page dedicated to poetry and carries stories authored by mafia bosses.

The Yamaguchi-gumi was founded in 1915 in Hyogo prefecture, western Japan. It expanded significantly from the late 1950s to the early '70s, becoming the most powerful yakuza gang in Japan. The year 2005 proved to be a pivotal one for the group, as two new leaders took charge. Shinobu Tsukasa became the head. Kiyoshi Takayama controlled the finances and ran day-to-day operations.

Both were originally from a branch of the gang based in Aichi Prefecture, and some members felt that the new leaders were biased towards their old group. Soon, a majority of the senior bosses were from there, and they brought with them a style of operation that was stricter than many members were used to. But in 2014 Takayama was arrested for extortion and sent to prison. That's when things started to change for the syndicate. In 2015 the Yamaguchi-Gumi crime syndicate split into two groups, followed by a series of riots and clashes between Yakuza. Members who broke away from the main group created a new rival gang named the Kobe Yamaguchi-Gumi. Fighting between the two groups intensified across the country since February of this year. Japanese police tried to respond to the increased violence and arrested eight Yakuza members on 28 March 2016 alone. Then, in 2017, the new group fractured and spawned a third syndicate, the Ninkyo Yamaguchi-gumi.

Despite the fears of an even larger-scale Yakuza war which might affect the Japanese public and damage the country's international image, a violent escalation isn't likely to happen. Contemporary mafia wars have become very different from what they used to be in the past after the government in recent years introduced very strict penalties for the use of both firearms and bladed-weapons. Penalties for the use of firearms have become very strict, that's why mafia leaders began asking their fighters not to use knives or firearms The decisive factor here was the increased pressure from Japanese authorities, as for the use of lethal weapons one could face a life sentence.

Modern mafia confrontations usually occur without a single shot fired. Nowadays, Yakuza gangs need to save their troops as even for a small-scale confrontation several of their members could get arrested. If in the past, killers would get no more than 10 years in prison and upon release they would get a high-ranking position; now they could be facing at least 30 years behind the bars, which means a person's life is essentially over and that changed things dramatically.

Furthermore, new Japanese anti-gang rules now hold Yakuza bosses responsible for crimes committed by lower-status members of a criminal syndicate. So the bosses will be reluctant to get into a struggle. Despite harsh anti-Yakuza laws implemented by Japanese authorities, gangs continue to fight each other.

Slowly but surely it looked like the once-powerful Yamaguchi-Gumi Yakuza gang was losing its influence. Following the 2015 split, the Yamaguchi-Gumi decreased from around 23,000 to 14,000 members. The introduction of the harsh anti-gang laws by authorities also decreased the power of Japanese criminal groups.

The Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi was formed in September 2015 when 13 subsidiary gangs, including the Yamaken-gumi, broke away from their parent syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi, to form their own Yakuza group. Treasury designated the Yamaguchi-gumi on February 23, 2012. The Yamaguchi-gumi lost approximately 30 percent of its membership to the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi, which has roughly 7,000 members, including associate members. The Yamaken-gumi is a subsidiary group under the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi syndicate.

Kunio Inoue was the leader of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi syndicate and Yamaken-gumi subsidiary gang. Inoue declared the formation of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi by issuing a statement validating the departure of dissident factions from the Yamaguchi-gumi as a movement to protect the will of past Yamaguchi-gumi leaders.

Osamu Teraoka was the wakagashira (lieutenant), an upper-level boss, of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi, and head of the Kyoyu-kai subsidiary gang. Teraoka presides over the business operations of the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi. In addition, the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi is using the Kyoyu-kai headquarters as its base of operations. Teraoka also played a prominent role in the breakaway movement that led to the division of the Yamaguchi-gumi.

Takashi Ikeda held a key position in the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi as the shateigashira (leader among brothers of the godfather) and head of the Ikeda-gumi subsidiary gang. Ikeda is often referred to as the money man because of the large amount of funds he controls. Before the schism, Ikeda once held a position as the regional leader of Yamaguchi-gumi clans in nine prefectures and oversaw 3,580 Yamaguchi-gumi members.

On 30 December 2016 ? the U.S. Department of the Treasurys Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi, a syndicate of the Japanese Yakuza criminal network. Specifically, OFAC designated two entities and three individuals: the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi, three of its key executive members Kunio Inoue, Osamu Teraoka, and Takashi Ikeda and its core clan, the Yamaken-gumi, pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13581, which targets significant transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) and their supporters.

By late 2019, Japanese police were considering designating two major criminal gangs that were involved in a conflict as groups that can threaten people's lives. The measure would target the country's largest yakuza mob, the Yamaguchi-gumi, and a splinter group, the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi. The designation would enable tougher crackdowns on gangs engaged in escalating feuds. On 03 December 2019, police arrested Hiroji Nakata, a senior member of the splinter group, on suspicion of shooting and injuring a Yamaguchi-gumi member in August. In late November 2019, police also arrested a man suspected of being a Yamaguchi-gumi member for allegedly shooting to death a senior member of the splinter group. Authorities were coordinating with regional police headquarters to apply the designation to the two gangs as early as by the end of 2019.

Japan's largest yakuza group and a splinter group faced a crackdown on their activities. The public safety commissions in six Japanese prefectures on Tuesday gave a special designation to the Yamaguchi-gumi and rival group the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi. On 07 January 2020, officials posted a message on the entrances to the headquarters of the two organizations -- both located in Hyogo Prefecture -- saying that members are barred from entering. The measure also bans gatherings of five or more members and stalking of rival group members in areas where the main group facilities are located. Those who break any of the rules are subject to arrest. The designation will be in place for three months, and can be extended until the groups are judged no longer harmful to local people. This was the second time Japanese authorities have taken such steps, following a case involving two other yakuza groups in 2012.

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Page last modified: 12-01-2020 19:07:11 ZULU