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Yamaguchi-gumi boss faces 'employer liability'

Restaurateur sues top mob don over protection payoffs

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

A former Nagoya restaurant operator is suing the head of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest underworld group, seeking reimbursement for protection money she said she was forced to pay to an affiliate gang.

Filed Tuesday with the Nagoya District Court, the suit, believed to be the first of its kind, demands ¥17.35 million from Yamaguchi-gumi chieftain Kenichi Shinoda, who goes by the name Shinobu Tsukasa, and an executive of an affiliated syndicate. The amount includes ¥5 million in damages.

The plaintiff, whose name is not being publicized, argues that under the anti-organized crime law, Shinoda bears “employer liability” as head of the nationwide umbrella organization of underworld groups.

“Seeking to clarify the responsibility of the supervising organization will help salvage the woman, as well as deter similar damage from being done in the future,” the group of lawyers representing the woman said in a statement.

According to the lawsuit, she paid ¥30,000 to ¥100,000 a month from 1998 to 2010 for a total of ¥10.85 million as protection money for her restaurant.

The money went to a senior executive of the Inabaji Ikka, a local yakuza group affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi.

The lawyers said the woman tried to stop making the payments in 2008 but was threatened.

“If you say such a thing, (your property) will be set on fire,” the Inabaji Ikka executive, who was later indicted for extortion, allegedly told the woman.

The historically weak anti-gang law was revised in 2008 so the heads of mob organizations can be held responsible for personal harm and property damage caused by members of subordinate gangs.

The Yamaguchi-gumi makes up more than 40 percent of the nation’s organized criminals, with about 27,700 members, the National Police Agency said.

Like the Italian Mafia or Chinese triads, the yakuza engages in activities from gambling, drugs and prostitution to loansharking, protection rackets, white-collar crime and business conducted through front companies.

The gangs, which are not illegal, have historically been tolerated by the authorities, although there are periodic clampdowns on some of their less savory activities.

The yakuza have been heavily mythologized, with films, TV dramas and fan magazines glamorizing their lives as being comprised of stylized violence and governed by a code of honor handed down from the samurai of yore.

But observers say the reality of the criminal underworld is one of brutishness and thuggery, where only a very few achieve the wealth and standing to which they aspire.

It was reported earlier this month that the Yamaguchi-gumi has published a magazine for its ranks that includes poetry and fishing diaries of senior mobsters, as part of a bid to bolster solidarity amid growing societal animosity.

  • Carmen Sterba

    This is a subject no one talks about in Japan. I remember recognizing yakuza on the train by the hardness of their faces and the way they dressed.

    One time, I was in an elevator at the immigration office in Yokohama, when I saw three very young South American girls with a rough looking yazuza with sunglasses, and knew right away that his job was in “human trafficking”—oh, how much I wished I could have helped those girls escape. This of course, is a world-wide problem.