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Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2000

Intended mob target unfazed by wiretap law


Staff writer

KOBE -- When the controversial wiretapping legislation was passed in the Diet last year, supporters claimed society as a whole would benefit because police would be able to track organized crime more efficiently.

But three weeks after the law went into effect, lawyers opposed to the law and veteran yakuza watchers say the only beneficiaries of the new law are likely to be cellular phone companies, which will see an increase in phone turnover.

"It's technically difficult to wiretap cellular phone traffic. Furthermore, many gangs will rent, buy or lease new phones constantly, making it next to impossible for police to track calls," said one veteran Kobe-based yakuza watcher, speaking anonymously.

Local journalists who follow the Kobe-based Yamaguchi-gumi, the nation's largest underworld gang, say top mobsters have assumed that for years both the gang's headquarters in a quiet suburban Kobe neighborhood and their individual homes were wiretapped anyway.

Until last year, most important Yamaguchi-gumi business among very top mob bosses was conducted primarily by fax machine, which is much harder to wiretap than a regular phone.

But at the regular monthly meeting in early July with the heads of the approximately 110 Yamaguchi-gumi-affiliated gangs nationwide, the Yamaguchi-gumi's top brass issued a new order.

To guard against police actions under the wiretapping law, the mob bosses were reportedly told by Saizo Kishimoto, head of Kishimoto-gumi and the person in charge of the meeting, to speak to each other face to face when important matters had to be discussed.

Police have built public expectations that the new law might make it easier for them to catch gangs discussing illegal business on the phone. But an Osaka-based lawyer who opposed the legislation said such expectations are folly.

"The top leaders of Yamaguchi-gumi are too smart to be caught discussing illegal business over an open phone line. I would imagine they've already worked out other measures to communicate with each other and to get around the wiretapping law," said Kenji Ikegami of the Osaka Bar Association.

Police and politicians who supported the legislation insisted the law was aimed at criminal gangs engaged in drug and weapons smuggling and bringing in illegal immigrants.

They also said wiretapping would make it easier to prevent gangland warfare from spilling over onto public streets.

"If we can catch the lower-level guys, this will hopefully lead to prosecution of the bigger fish," said a police officer based in Osaka's Kita Ward.

Ikegami, though, warned that if police fail to make a few major arrests, they'll likely ask for more power.

"Our biggest concern is that once police realize they aren't getting the results they thought they would, there will be pressure on politicians to expand the scope of the law.

"If we were not careful, we could have a situation where, like the Kempeitai secret police before the war, the police will be recording private conversations of innocent people secretly, while the gangs conduct business as usual," he said.



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