A former gangster dubbed the “Loan Shark King” said during his first trial session Wednesday he was putting off entering a plea on charges of lending money at exorbitant interest rates.

Susumu Kajiyama, 54, is suspected of running a loan-sharking ring that funneled some 10 billion yen annually to the Yamaguchi-gumi, the nation’s largest underworld syndicate, through the Shizuoka-based gangster group Goryo-kai.

Kajiyama told the Tokyo District Court he would defer his plea until investigators complete their probe into the Yamaguchi-gumi’s links with his alleged loan operation.

Former mob boss Toshikazu Matsuzaki, 34, who was a close aide to Kajiyama and allegedly oversaw day-to-day operations relating to the 1,000-member scheme, likewise postponed his plea.

The defendants are accused of collecting some 4.14 million yen in interest from 13 customers through three moneylenders in Ikebukuro Ward, Tokyo, between October 2001 and December 2002. Legally, they should only have collected some 71,000 yen.

Prosecutors alleged that Kajiyama was the capstone of a loan sharking pyramid. They believe Matsuzaki ordered managers of the various “branches” under him to collect interest equal to 120 percent to 160 percent of the previous month’s outstanding loans, and to increase loan volume by 1 million yen every month.

Meanwhile, each branch was forced to give 1.5 million yen every month to Kajiyama as “expenses,” they said.

The operation regularly charged interest rates of up to 3,600 percent, prosecutors said. At that rate, interest on a 20,000 yen loan would equal the principal in 10 days.

Branch managers were ordered to destroy any evidence of their lending operations and to assume full responsibility should a lawyer or police officer became involved in a case, the indictment says.

About 30 suspects have thus far been arrested in connection with the loan-sharking ring. No one has thus far offered any concrete proof that profits from the operation were funneled back to the mob, reportedly due to fears for their families’ safety.

The legal limit on interest rates ranges between 15 percent and 20 percent.

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