Yakuza 'Employer Liability' Murder Suit Ends with a Settlement

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TOKYO — Tadamasa Goto, former boss of the Yamaguchi-gumi Goto-gumi crime group, has agreed to pay ¥110 million, or $1.4 million, to settle the lawsuit filed by the family of Kazuoki Nozaki, who was murdered by members of the organization in 2006. That's a little less than the ¥187 million of damages specified in the family original suit. But they got something in return: according to those involved with the lawsuit, at one point in the negotiations, Goto and the Yamaguchi-gumi organization, offered to pay the full amount requested in the lawsuit, but in the final negotiations, only Goto ended up paying, with the provision that he express his condolences. In Japan, an apology is worth quite a lot.

Shinobu Tsukasa, the current head of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime group, was named in the lawsuit but did not pay a single yen of what had been originally requested. Law enforcement and organized crimes sources agree that Tsukasa who was in jail at the time of the killing, had no knowledge of the murder and didn’t condone it. The murder of Nozaki was one of several reasons Tsukasa banished Goto from the Yamaguchi-gumi in October of 2008.

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At its peak the Goto-gumi had over 1,000 members and 150 front companies; Tadamasa Goto was one of the wealthiest and most powerful yakuza in Japan, not to mention the largest individual shareholder of Japan Airlines. 

The lawyer representing the family members issued a press statement outlining the details of the agreement:  first, Goto accepted responsibility, as the head of the organization at the time, for the actions of his soldiers in Nozaki's killing and agreed to pay damages and express his condolences to the family. There was no admission from Goto, however, that he had commanded the killing.

A detective with the Shizuoka Police Department where Goto-gumi was headquartered, said of the settlement, “It’s not surprising that Goto paid up the money but it’s amazing that he apologized. His entire biography is full of bragging but not one word of apology is expressed about the attack on the famous director Juzo Itami or to the victims of his reign of terror.”

Goto’s autobiography, Habakarinagara (Pardon Me But…), was a bestseller in Japan after its publication in 2010. Itami, a well-known film director, had made the 1992 film Minbō no Onna which lampooned the yakuza. Six days after its release he was attacked by several Goto-gumi goons. Goto wrote that it was only natural that his gang members would retaliate “because he made fun of us and his movie was unpleasant.” In the chapter about receiving a liver transplant at UCLA ahead of many U.S. citizens on the waiting list, Goto wrote, “If the Americans are going to whine about it so much, they can come to Japan and take the liver back. The Washington Post, the L.A. Times, if they want the liver, come and get it.”

Although there was no admission of collusion in the murder, the settlement with the Nozaki family settlement may rekindle the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s long-running investigation into Tadamasa Goto for the murder of Nozaki and Goto’s former lieutenant, Takashi Kondo. Kondo was shot to death in Thailand in April last year, after an international arrest warrant had been issued on charges related to Nozaki's murder. It was alleged by former Goto-gumi members that Goto had ordered Kondo to make the hit but never proven. And likely never to be proven because as the Japanese saying goes, 死人に口無し, or dead men have no mouths.

Revisions made to Japan's Organized Crime Countermeasures Law (暴力団対策法) in 2008 made it possible to hold organized crime bosses responsible for the actions of their underlings in civil court. This case was being closely watched by both yakuza organizations and law enforcement because, it argued that the employer liability should apply to yakuza actions that predated the 2008 revisions. A settlement was expected in the case to prevent a judge from cementing that legal precedent. Law enforcement sources say that Goto's lawyers completed their settlement before the trial could began. While the Yamaguchi-gumi and its boss Tsukasa did not pay any damages, this case may be the first time that a former yakuza boss has. 

Here is a memory of when Goto was still in goodstanding with the Yamaguchi-gumi, celebrating his birthday in September 2008, just weeks before he was expelled, with a little karaoke. That's Goto, sans mustache, who comes on stage just around the three-minute mark.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.