Until last year, Yakult Honsha Co. had paid a criminal gang 50 million yen every year for more than 20 years to keep it from disrupting general shareholders’ meetings, sources said Thursday. The gang in question is affiliated with Sumiyoshi Kai, a major criminal syndicate, they said.According to the sources, the money provided to the gang — totaling more than 1 billion yen — was funneled from advertising money paid to an ad agency with which Yakult has business ties, they said. In a recent separate incident, Yakult Honsha was indicted on charges of window-dressing its financial statement in connection with Princeton bond deals, in violation of the Commercial Law. Yakult’s publicity office said Thursday that although it is true the company has business relations with the ad agency, it does not have any knowledge of having given money to the gang. Yakult started to pay the Sumiyoshi Kai-affiliated gang around 1975, the source said, adding that the gang’s take comprised 10 percent of the 500 million yen Yakult paid to the ad agency every year. The payments started after gangsters stormed Yakult to harass the then-top executive of the firm, threatening to reveal a personal affair. The management then took the matter up with the ad agency, the sources indicated. Yakult is the nation’s leading maker of lactic drinks.