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Sunday, June 6, 2010

The timing behind yakuza crackdown

Special to The Japan Times

The media has been filled with revelations of ties between professional sumo and organized crime. Since late May, the tabloids and gossipy "wide shows" on TV have made a huge flap over Sehei Kimura and one other stable master for allowing senior gang members to obtain box-seat tickets to the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament held in July 2009.

The tickets were for tokutoseki (special-class box seats at ringside), which meant that the gang heads seated therein could be seen on nationwide live sumo broadcasts. Their intention was allegedly to boost the morale of colleagues serving time in prison, since convicts are permitted to view sumo bouts on TV.

The gang-related revelations created a major embarrassment for NHK, which in exchange for exclusive rights to sumo broadcasts serves as sumo's largest benefactor. NHK's News Commentators Division provided explanations on late-night commentary May 28, with a more detailed followup on June 1.

As part of its damage control, the Japan Sumo Association took the unprecedented move of effectively shutting down the Kise stable — no minor matter, since Kise, with 27 grapplers, ranked third in size among professional sumo's 52 stables. Its wrestlers became wards of Kitanoumi, an affiliated stable.

While this was happening, the magazine Shukan Shincho (May 27, June 3) ran articles in successive weeks claiming that sumo ozeki (champion) Kotomitsuki was deeply involved in betting on baseball. This week, Shukan Bunshun (June 10) jumped in the fray with an article claiming the sumo world has been heavily involved with gamblers for decades. And Flash magazine (June 15) even went so far as to speculate that the kessho mawashi (ceremonial apron) worn by a grappler from the Kise stable intentionally carried the first name of Shinobu Tsukasa, head of Japan's largest gang — the Yamaguchi- gumi — although this may be coincidental, since shinobu, meaning "fortitude," is considered a key sumo attribute.

Unrelated to sumo, police on May 26 searched the offices of hotel and resort operators affiliated with Okamoto Hotel Systems on suspicion of financial misconduct, with gang involvement alleged. The moves came after investors in a resort club had filed suit for unreturned deposits. And the 302-member Japan Securities Dealers Association also announced it would be setting up a database for sharing information to ascertain investors have no ties to organized crime.

National tabloid Nikkan Gendai doesn't believe in coincidences and in its May 28 issue it raises the question of this sudden crack down on gang activities.

"Takaharu Ando, commissioner general of the NPA, has sent out directions for a stronger crackdown against the Kodokai," Nikkan Gendai quotes a source in the police. "On June 11, the section heads of antigang departments from all over Japan will be holding a conference on dealing with the Nagoya-based Kodokai."

It seems the Kodokai, with an estimated 4,000 members, has been singled out for special attention by the Aichi Prefectural Police, which in April set up a special task force.

"The directive was issued that it's all right even to charge gang members with misdemeanors like traffic violations," says a source within the Aichi police. "We were told, 'Kodokai involvement should be suspected in anything that involves major movement of money.' "

The Kodokai is one of the largest affiliates of the 38,000 member Yamaguchi-gumi. Gang leader Tsukasa, and the gang's No. 2 leader are said to be Kodokai alumni.

Tsukasa is currently serving a prison sentence but is due to be released next April, and the timing of the crackdown has raised suggestions that the police are moving proactively to blunt the Kodokai's power.

But veteran investigative reporter Atsushi Mizoguchi voices skepticism to Nikkan Gendai over the police moves.

"There's no doubt the police have been cracking down, but at this rate the Kodokai won't budge an inch," he asserts, ominously adding, "If the police were really serious about going after them, the cops themselves would probably not emerge unscathed."

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