Yakuza hide IDs to secretly thrive in Tohoku’s disaster zones
A gang leader says he effectively controls several companies involved in rebuilding projects in the Tohoku region.
A company has been busy dispatching temporary workers for the Herculean task of rebuilding lives in the disaster-hit Tohoku region. But the company’s most important job for survival is to conceal any evidence of its true, sinister nature.
“This is a company I established,” said the leader of a gang affiliated with an organized crime syndicate based in western Japan. “I made sure that no signs of any possible association with yakuza organizations were left.”
Although the National Police Agency has tried to prevent gangsters from cashing in on the triple disaster that struck in March 2011, yakuza groups appear to be thriving in the Tohoku region and extending their reach.
Their companies not only dispatch workers and lease heavy machinery, but they are also involved in more traditional services, such as providing prostitutes and dealing drugs, with workers at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and other sites as potential targets.
Police say there is little they can do to shut down the yakuza activities.
The gang leader’s company, which was set up in a city in the Kanto region last December with a start-up cost of 5 million yen ($45,000), appears innocent on the surface.
The president named on company’s registry has no ties with organized crime, and the true leader and members of his family and group are not listed as directors.
The gang leader said he also has effective control over other companies that send workers to contractors involved in an array of projects, including decontaminating areas or dismantling abandoned houses.
“I make millions of yen a month, including about 100,000 yen per contractor and siphoning from workers’ daily allowances,” the gang leader proudly said.
Twenty days after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11, 2011, triggering the nuclear disaster, the NPA directed all prefectural police departments to keep gangsters away from the reconstruction projects.
Similar requests were made to the construction industry, Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the nuclear plant, government ministries and agencies and local authorities.
But a number of yakuza organizations are now behind the companies involved in the rebuilding projects.
In some cases, they gain control of legitimate but cash-strapped companies by providing funds.
One crime syndicate reportedly advises umbrella groups on “how to set up a company by keeping others from becoming suspicious.”
Police officials dealing with crime syndicates acknowledge that it is “practically impossible” to thoroughly check for possible ties between subcontractors and gangster organizations.
In some cases, a single project is outsourced to more than 10 subcontractors.
“All we can do is check whether individuals connected to underground groups are listed in the registration papers,” a police official said.
Police say they can confirm a yakuza connection only after they scrutinize the company directors’ circle of friends and acquaintances and other relevant data.
Although anti-yakuza ordinances are believed to be depleting the finances of mobsters around Japan, the crime syndicates are systematically running operations in the Tohoku region as if it’s business as usual.
One leader of an underground group said he was ordered by its parent organization “not to lag behind others” in exploiting potentially lucrative projects.
After the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, the parent organization began asking all groups under its umbrella to give “regular reports” about rental agents of heavy machinery, dump trucks and other equipment indispensable in rebuilding projects on their turfs.
The move was apparently designed to prepare for the day when they needed to quickly obtain as much machinery as possible.
That day arrived on March 11, 2011.
“There is a huge demand for such equipment in a disaster,” a former senior member of a gang group said. “We can lease it at our asking price.”
Crime organizations have also seen a potentially lucrative market in the predominantly male work force at the Fukushima nuclear plant and other reconstruction projects in the Tohoku region.
“I came to Fukushima to have fun as an adult,” said an entry, presumably by a female, on a dating site for men. “I am looking for somebody I can meet in Nihonmatsu,” said another, referring to a city in Fukushima Prefecture.
The website, set up by the head of a gangster organization in the Kanto region, targets workers at the stricken nuclear plant and elsewhere.
The gang leader said he takes women who have experience in the sex industry to disaster-stricken areas in his car and stays there for several days.
He sends the women to love hotels or the clients’ vehicles, depending on the customers’ requests. One encounter costs about 30,000 yen, he said, adding that 60 percent goes to the woman while he pockets the remainder.
“I am in fierce competition with other underground groups in this line of business,” he said. “But I can earn at least 3 million yen a month.”
Drug deals are also said to be at play in the disaster zone.
“I have seen and heard about the use and deals in stimulant drugs at the plant,” recalled the leader of a gang group based in eastern Japan who works at the Fukushima nuclear complex.
He was assigned to the plant just after a hydrogen explosion took place there.
TEPCO and Fukushima prefectural police said they are not aware of any drug use at the plant.
However, a plant worker in his 30s died at a hospital in August 2015 after he complained of sickness on a bus taking him from the nuclear plant.
He turned out to be a gang member, according to police. His urine sample showed possible signs of stimulant drug use, but his cause of death was not determined.
Between 2011 and 2016, police have busted underground groups involved in rebuilding projects in 101 cases.
Fraud accounted for 54 cases. They were primarily gangsters pretending to collect donations for disaster victims or mobsters involved in illicit borrowing.
Twenty-five cases concerned dispatches of workers to assignments that they were not allowed to perform.
In one case, a senior member of a group affiliated with the Sumiyoshi-kai, one of the largest crime syndicates in the nation, was arrested in May 2012 on suspicion of illegally sending workers to the Fukushima plant. Police uncovered that the mobster received about 40 million yen between 2009 and 2011 by sending workers to nuclear plants and thermal power plants across the country.
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