National / Crime & Legal

Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi yakuza to get fast-track mob designation amid growing violence

Kyodo

Amid intensifying violence between rival yakuza factions, the National Policy Agency plans to label a new splinter faction a crime syndicate.

It will add the Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi to a list of designated crime syndicates and thereby put the group under tighter control. There are already 21 groups on the list.

The agency originally planned to do this in June but is speeding up the process in light of growing violence and ahead of an upcoming global summit.

Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi split from the Yamaguchi-gumi last August. It will face the dubious distinction of fast-track recognition, a mere eight months compared with the 20 months it took to register Kyushu Seido-kai, in February 2008, after it broke from Dojin-kai in June 2006.

At least 21 violent incidents, including shootings, car rammings and fire-bombings, have been recorded in 12 prefectures.

The police declared the groups were “in a state of war” and set up a special task force to cope with the conflict in March. In five cases, trucks and cars have rammed gang properties, while in three cases they were targeted with Molotov cocktails.

A car crashed into Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi’s head office in Awaji, Hyogo Prefecture, on Monday morning. No one was hurt.

Police arrested the driver, Hiroshi Yoshihara, who said he “mishandled the steering wheel.”

Local residents expressed concern over the incident.

“I’ve been living here for 50 years but this is the first time something like this has happened,” said a woman in her 70s who lives nearby. “I hadn’t felt scared until now and I need to be careful.”

“The safety of civilians is the top priority,” said a senior NPA official. “We need to speed up the process so we can weaken and (eradicate) the two groups.”

The National Public Safety Commission on Thursday confirmed that Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi has met the three conditions required to be placed on the list, which relate to how it raises funds, the proportion of members with a criminal history and the organization’s structure.

The designation empowers police to crack down on the mob, including limiting the use of offices by designated crime syndicates in times of gang conflict.

But the designation is only a start and “not a goal,” said Taro Kono, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission. “We will deal with the group thoroughly to prevent citizens being hurt.”

Meanwhile, police are accelerating their efforts against the violence as Mie Prefecture prepares to host the Ise-Shima Group of Seven summit in May.

Kodo-kai, one of the top groups within the Yamaguchi-gumi, is headquartered in Aichi Prefecture. This is home to Chubu International Airport, which the G-7 leaders are expected to use.

The Yamaguchi-gumi is based in Kobe, where G-7 health ministers are scheduled to meet in September.

“If a conflict took place involving citizens, Japan’s public safety will be cast in doubt internationally,” one police official said.

A March 1 estimate put Kobe Yamaguchi-gumi’s membership at 2,700 people and its influence extending to 36 prefectures.

The Yamaguchi-gumi has 5,700 members, with its influence seen in 44 prefectures.