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Profiteering in disaster areas

February 1, 2013
Police struggle to prevent gangsters from profiting in disaster areas






Police are trying to prevent gangsters from profiting on the many rebuilding projects in the Tohoku region, but the huge demand for workers is making it difficult to keep yakuza out of the disaster areas.

A number of gang-related arrests have been made, and workers and companies are being checked for ties to crime syndicates. Yet officials suspect mob involvement is rife in areas still recovering from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

“Gangs are capitalizing on the post-quake labor shortage,” an official of the Iwate prefectural police said.

Miyagi prefectural police say they have been flooded with inquiries from local governments on whether businesses planning to take part in disaster-related public works projects are connected to gangs.

The number of such inquires has doubled since the disasters struck on March 11, 2011, due to the sharp increase in public works projects.

Many businesses from outside Miyagi Prefecture have approached the Miyagi prefectural government seeking involvement in the reconstruction projects.

Miyagi police, at the request of prefectural government officials, researched the companies and identified some with gang ties. Those companies were not hired by the prefectural government.

However, a police official said the yakuza-related companies that police can identify are “just the tip of the iceberg.”

Police suspect that crime syndicates are even pretending to expel members so that they can be sent to the disaster areas disguised as honest volunteer workers.

The gangs' members can befriend residents, seek information on money-making schemes and set up a foothold for their organizations to conduct business, according to police.

At least two gangsters were arrested in 2011 on suspicion of sending laborers to construction sites in Iwate Prefecture. The Worker Dispatch Law prohibits the use of staffing services for construction projects.

One of the suspects is a senior member of a gang affiliated with the Sumiyoshi-kai crime syndicate. He was arrested in July in connection with temporary housing construction projects in Otsuchi.

The other suspect is a member of a gang affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi. He was arrested in October over a project to repair a quake-damaged commercial facility in Kitakami.

The laborers in those two cases allegedly received only part of their wages, indicating that the gangsters had siphoned off the remainder, according to police sources.

Gangs are also targeting projects related to the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

On Jan. 31, a senior member of a gang affiliated with the Sumiyoshi-kai was arrested on suspicion of sending laborers to a decontamination project in Date, Fukushima Prefecture, in November.

It was the first arrest of a gangster over suspected involvement in a project to remove radioactive substances in areas around the Fukushima plant.

The suspect did not have a license for staffing services. He was also arrested earlier in January on suspicion of sending laborers to construction projects.

“We check lists of laborers to see whether they have ties with anti-social forces,” a Date official said, using the euphemism for crime syndicates. “But it requires too much effort to find out who dispatched those laborers.”

An official of a company based in Fukushima city and involved in decontamination work expressed concerns that gang-tied laborers could sneak into its work force because businesses are all shorthanded



January 31, 2013


Gangster illegally hired workers for decontamination projects




By KENJI OGATA/ Senior Staff Writer

Criminal organizations are cashing in on the disaster that shook Japan nearly two years ago by sinking their claws into all aspects of recovery operations to skim off handsome profits.

Police have just turned up an instance of a gang member brazenly providing laborers to help clean up contaminated areas in Fukushima Prefecture, and pocketing part of their wages.

The Yamagata prefectural police said 40-year-old Yoshinori Arai broke the law because he did not have a license to dispatch day laborers.

Police said Arai, a resident of Higashine, Yamagata Prefecture, is a top member of a yakuza gang affiliated with leading crime syndicate Sumiyoshi-Kai. He was arrested Jan. 31.

According to an investigative source, Arai dispatched three day laborers to a Yamagata Prefecture subcontractor doing decontamination work in Date on 10 occasions in November. Their tasks included weeding.

It also emerged that the workers took home only half of less than 20,000 yen ($220) in salary a day--suggesting that the difference was pocketed by Arai and his mob associates.

Arai was taken into custody earlier this month for a similar offense. Police said he dispatched two laborers to assist in the construction of temporary housing.

The recovery operations involve a lot of money, so they are a godsend for gangs that have trouble making money due to a police crackdown on gang activities,” a gang insider said.

The man said these groups have been involved in the demolition of buildings and the disposal of waste in devastated areas. He also said some of them have been working as bouncers for restaurants and bars in the Tohoku region by offering lower rates than those demanded by local gangs.

Law enforcement authorities have been on alert against organized crime groups cashing in on recovery operations after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake that spawned towering tsunami and triggered the nuclear disaster.

Police have detected 37 cases so far, but this is the first arrest over a gang member's suspected involvement in decontamination work.

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