Agony of Yakuza bosses

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Agony of Yakuza bosses

In Korea, the national sections of newspapers frequently feature stories about organized gangs. We often hear stories about a gangster assaulting a passerby for looking at him wrong or gang members that extort money from street vendors. Names like Yangeun Clan, Seven Stars and the Lynx frighten most of us. In 1990, the Roh Tae-woo administration declared a war against organized crime. In February last year the prosecutors launched another crackdown on organized crime. Despite their efforts, gangs are still rampant. According to the National Police Agency, there are more than 5,000 members in 216 gangs nationwide. People complain that the law enforcement doesn’t seem willing to round them up.

Organized crime is also a headache in Japan. On Jan. 25, the Yamaguchi Gumi, the largest yakuza organization in Japan, had a centennial celebration.

It was also a birthday party for 72-year-old Kenichi Shinoda, the sixth head of the clan. The party was attended by more than 70 sub-bosses and members from across Japan.

The gang started in 1915 when Haruyoshi Yamaguchi established a local group of 30 dockworkers in Kobe. Now the organization has become an underworld giant with 16,000 members. It is involved in all kinds of legal and illegal businesses, including drug trafficking, prostitution, entertainment and real estate investment, and also does charity work.

But lately, Shinoda has been in trouble. On Jan. 8, a restaurant owner in Aichi Prefecture sued the “emperor of the night” for 32.2 million yen ($270, 800). The owner demanded that the Yamaguchi Gumi return the money he paid them for protection from other gangsters over a 10 year period. I am curious as to why the Japanese are brave enough to raise a lawsuit against a Yakuza boss when many Koreans are reluctant to even file a police report?

In April 2008, Japan’s Diet revised the Organized Crime Group Countermeasures Law. The new anti-Yakuza law says that when a member used force and extorted money, the individual and the boss are both accountable. Local governments have adopted a regulation to ban restaurants and hotels from renting their venues for Yakuza events. Playing golf with a gang member is also illegal. Repeated violations of the regulation would result in public disclosure of the name and employer for having “close contact with a criminal organization.”

Japanese police are also helping gangsters break away from their past and find new jobs. Prisons offer four-month transitional training. Former gang members are constantly monitored so that they don’t return to crime. A one-time declaration of a crackdown is not enough.

The author is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 14, Page 26


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