OSAKA — The new warrant served on Wang Yunfeng, who lives in Osaka and is allegedly a key member of a Chinese Snakehead syndicate that works with the yakuza to smuggle Chinese into Japan, marks the first major arrest since the prefectural police here set up a special task force earlier this month to deal with the problem.

Wang, who is 33 and described as unemployed, is charged with having tried to smuggle 99 Chinese into Japan last December along the coast of Aichi Prefecture in an operation that was discovered by the Maritime Safety Agency. He was originally arrested on suspicion of illegally obtaining a Japanese passport.

Wang’s arrest for smuggling comes nearly three weeks after Osaka Prefectural Police had assigned 200 officers to a special task force dealing with international gangs in general and the Snakeheads in particular. Despite Wang’s arrest, however, Osaka police claim they are not yet 100 percent certain the Snakeheads are operating locally. “At this point, we don’t have absolute proof that the Snakeheads are in Osaka, although they probably are,” said Yoshio Domoto, superintendent in the foreign affairs section.

Wang has denied any connection to the Snakeheads, saying he was only an interpreter. Domoto said incidents involving Chinese being smuggled into Osaka by boat have been recorded. During January and February, some 600 foreigners who entered the country illegally were rounded up. Of this figure, 245 were Chinese, and virtually all were caught with false passports. “Many of the fake passports and visas appeared to have been manufactured in Japan and China,” said Takushi Hashida, a police superintendent in the international criminal investigation division.

Why have police only now decided to crack down on the Snakeheads when the problem appears to have existed for a number of years? “Last fall, we saw a sudden increase in the number of Chinese arrested for overstaying their visas and caught entering Japan illegally. It was clear the operations were organized,” Hashida said.

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