Mob leaders found liable for botched hit

'Godfather,' others ordered to pay damages to Korean victim's family


The Tokyo District Court on Thursday ordered the two top executives of Japan’s second-biggest crime syndicate, including its “Godfather” and three hit men, to pay a combined ¥59 million in damages to the family of a South Korean student killed in a botched revenge shooting in 2001.

The civil suit was brought by family members of Yun Won Ju, then 24, claiming that he was the wrong target.

They argued that the two Sumiyoshi-kai executives, in addition to the three hit men involved in Yun’s slaying, were liable for his death. Yun’s parents and sister had demanded a combined ¥140 million in compensation.

In handing down the ruling, presiding Judge Hideki Hama said the three hit men “conspired to conduct the hit,” but the murder took place under the supervision of the gang’s executives.

“Orders from the top were conveyed to the very bottom of the faction, and the chain of command was absolute,” the ruling stated, finding that Shigeo Nishiguchi, the supreme head of the Sumiyoshi-kai, and Hareaki Fukuda, its chairman, were ultimately responsible for the slaying.

The Supreme Court in 2004 ordered executives of the Yamaguchi-gumi crime syndicate to pay compensation for the acts of their subordinates, but Thursday’s ruling was the first to hold the Sumiyoshi-kai similarly liable.

None of the defendants appeared at court Thursday, and their lawyers did not comment on the ruling.

The focus of the trial was whether the court would find Nishiguchi and Fukuda liable. They supervise the group’s conduct but were not present at the slaying.

According to the ruling, Yun was fatally shot in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, on Oct. 10, 2001, the day he was scheduled to start taking classes at a Japanese-language school.

At the time, Kazutaka Matsumoto, Yoshiharu Yamaguchi and Motoshi Koike, members of the Sumiyoshi-kai affiliate Hirata-gumi, were tracking down a man who they believed was responsible for the death of a fellow gangster a few weeks earlier.

They mistook Yun as the revenge target and shot him four times in front of his condo.

The three hit men have already had their guilty verdicts finalized. One was sentenced to life in prison, one got 20 years and the third was given 10 years. Nishiguchi and Fukuda did not face criminal charges over the slaying.

Although the two executives had claimed they bore no responsibility for Yun’s death because they were not in direct command of the hit, the court judged that the shooting was an attempt by the leaders to appeal to “the group’s dignity and authority.”

In filing the civil suit in February 2005, the plaintiffs had claimed that Yun had no ties with any gang activities. They denounced the yakuza syndicate and its executives “for killing an unrelated foreign student studying in Japan.”

Following the verdict, Yun’s family released a statement saying they were “relieved” by the ruling and thanked both the Korean and Japanese police for providing precautionary protection against mob intimidation during the trial.

Speaking to reporters after the verdict, Kenso Kono, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he would “like to pay respect to the court” for holding the Sumiyoshi-kai executives liable.