• Kyodo, Staff Report


Gangsters seeking to leave organized crime groups — but who are in dire financial straits — could soon get free accommodation and help with transportation costs in Fukuoka Prefecture under a unique program aimed at promoting integration back into society and in turn weakening the underworld syndicates.

The prefectural government said Monday it has earmarked ¥4.2 million ($39,400) for the program in its fiscal 2018 draft budget, including funds that can be used for lodging and travel to job interviews outside of Fukuoka. The program is set to start April 1.

Yakuza members who wish to cut ties with crime groups — yet fear a backlash and cannot seek refuge with family or friends — will be entitled to the new program, according to the prefectural police.

Kudo-kai, based in Kitakyushu, and four other major crime syndicates operate in Fukuoka Prefecture, which has the largest concentration of entities designated as organized crime groups among the country’s 47 prefectures. Still, the number of yakuza members in the prefecture has fallen for the 10th straight year amid stepped up efforts to facilitate departures from the syndicates through a range of measures, including initiatives aimed at helping former gangsters find jobs in coordination with police nationwide, which began in 2016.

As of late December, the number of yakuza affiliated members in Fukuoka Prefecture stood at 2,040, a marked drop compared with 3,720 in 2008, according to the police. Last year’s figure, down from 2,240 in 2016, was the lowest since 1992, when the prefecture started compiling such data.

Nationwide, there were nearly 40,000 yakuza members as of 2016, official figures show.

Fukuoka officials also said they will try to improve witness protection related to criminal trials involving Kudo-kai. Among the measures will be installing security cameras close to the residences of witnesses to ensure their safety.

Kudo-kai, which is said to have around 600 members, has criminal ties outside of Japan. In 2014, the U.S. Treasury Department added Kudo-kai to its sanctions list, after having already barred Japan’s largest underworld crime group, Yamaguchi-gumi — in addition to the Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai syndicates — and frozen their assets.

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