FUKUOKA – Since the revised law against organized crime took effect a year ago, mob-related offenses appear to be on the wane in Fukuoka Prefecture, which was targeted by the amendment for escalating violence waged by three underworld syndicates.
Police, however, have not made substantial progress in solving cold cases because people in the region are still fearful of reporting yakuza crimes despite the amendment.
The so-called anti-organized crime law bans yakuza from demanding protection money, donations or engaging in business through coercion or intimidation. It was revised in 2008 and again in July 2012 to give the police more powers to suppress gang activity. The latest changes took effect Wednesday.
The enhancements include the ability to make an immediate arrest without a cease-and-desist order if a member of a designated crime syndicate makes an unreasonable demand of a business, for instance. It also bars gangsters from opening offices in certain areas and makes use of a public violence eradication center to sue yakuza on behalf of citizens to stop using such offices.
Residents in Kitakyushu have lived in the shadow of gang violence for decades because it’s home to Kudo-kai, one of three major crime syndicates that police keep close tabs on.
Mob violence against citizens has been escalating.
In August 2003, a hand grenade was hurled into Club Borudo in Kokurakita Ward, wounding 11 people. The bar was owned by a member of a group aiming to drive yakuza out of town.
In March 2010, gunshots were fired at the home of a local community leader after a community association told Kudo-kai to close a new office.
Between 2007 and 2011, Fukuoka tallied 60 assault cases against restaurant owners and other business executives who rejected mob demands, a number that accounted for nearly 60 percent of all gang-related incidents in the nation.
This prompted the National Police Agency to revise the law against organized crime with Fukuoka in mind.
Last December, police in Fukuoka and neighboring Yamaguchi used the revision to designate Kudo-kai as a mob group posing a special risk, in the belief it would continue to attack businesspeople who resisted its demands.
The violence subsequently subsided.
The police in Kyushu’s northern prefectures also stepped up measures against gangs engaged in conflict with each other.
Two groups in Fukuoka — Dojin-kai based in the city of Kurume and Kyushu Seido-kai in the city of Omuta, had been in constant conflict since 2006. But after they were placed under special watch in December, no inter-group violence has been reported.
In June, Dojin-kai gave the police a document declaring it had ended the fighting with other groups. Kyushu Seido-kai then submitted a notification to police about its dissolution.
But members of Kyushu Seido-kai launched a new group, Namikawamutsumi-kai, in early October, sparking concern that the fighting with Dojin-kai might begin anew.
In the meantime, no visible progress has been made on cases that took place before the revision took effect. From August to September last year, four slashing attacks took place against bar owners in Kitakyushu and a series of anonymous threats against restaurants were also reported. No arrests have been made.
“Rather than becoming safer, it feels like nothing has happened in the past year,” said a woman working at a Kitakyushu bar that received threatening phone calls.
A police investigator blamed the lack of progress on the difficulty in getting victims to make a statement.
“Based on what we hear from informants, we can guess who is behind all of these cases. But it’s difficult to get their accounts recorded in official reports and bring the cases to trial,” he said.
Investigators are also ditching the conventional method of contacting the yakuza or other gangsters themselves to get information because of concern that officers may be prone to corruption.
The gangs have also grown cautious about approaching investigators, the police said.
In a new tack, the government’s Legislative Council is considering expanding the state’s wiretapping law to include gangsters.
Investigators want to add gang-related crimes to the current list of targets, which is currently limited to four categories that include drug-related crimes.
Some people with experience investigating underworld syndicates, however, question whether that strategy will be effective because false phone conversations can be used to disrupt their investigations.