Silence Is the Cost of Freezing a Yakuza Group's U.S. Assets

The U.S. Department of Treasury on Wednesday announced sanctions against Japan’s third-largest crime syndicate the Inagawa-kai and its leaders.

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The U.S. Department of Treasury on Wednesday announced sanctions against Japan’s third-largest crime syndicate the Inagawa-kai and its leaders. In a 2010 White Paper [pdf] published by the National Police Agency of Japan said it had 4,700 members. Together with the Yamaguchi-gumi and the Ginza-based Sumiyoshi-kai, the U.S. Treasury says, “the top three clans account for approximately 72.4 percent of the Yakuza membership.”

The move by the Treasury Department means that the government is freezing any assets that the Inagawa-kai has within the jurisdiction of the United States. By designating them a transnational criminal organization, the government also prohibits U.S. citizens from doing business with the group.

The group's leaders, are Jiro Kiyota aka Sin Bon-Gyu, the Chairman, and his and second-in-command Kazuo Uchibori, the Chairman of the Board. That's Uchibori pictured above on the cover of the June 2011 issue of yakuza fanzine Jitsuwa Jiho. Japanese police, due to Kiyota’s poor health and other factors, considers Uchibori the de facto leader of the group.

The Inagawa-kai, which has their headquarters in Tokyo (Minato-ward, Roppongi 7-8-4) directly across from the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo, has roughly 10,000 members if you count associate members. It was originally a loosely knit federation of gamblers after the war but moved into extortion, real estate, and racketeering over the last few decades. Japan’s Minister of Justice, Tanaka Keishu, was forced to resign last year after a weekly magazines revealed his allegedly deep ties to the crime organization.

The Inagawa-kai gained some popular support in Japan for their humanitarian aid after the March 11 earthquakes and nuclear meltdown at Fukushima and they are also involved behind the scenes, as are other yakuza, in the reconstruction public projects.

The Treasury Department cited the group’s close ties to the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest and most powerful crime group as one of the reasons they targeted the organization for sanctions.

This reporter sought out a low-level Inagawa-kai member to discuss the sanctions and the group’s reactions. The reply was as follows.

“I can’t answer that question because we’ve all been told not to talk to Americans.”

“But we’re talking.”

“No, I’m telling you I can’t talk to you.”

“Since when were you told you couldn’t talk to Americans.”

“At the beginning of the year.”

“But that’s before the announcement.”

No komento.”

Yes, the Department of Treasury sanctions may be a blow to the Inagawa-kai’s international crime presence but it is a victory achieved not without some loss. For the handful of Americans like myself who have any contact with the Inagawa-kai, we’re getting “the silent treatment.”

So goes the war on transnational organized crime.

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