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Crime syndicates in Japan have operated in the open for more than 100 years as a result of an unwritten agreement they have had with members of the public and the police.

Many gangs explicitly ban members from being involved in crimes such as petty theft, armed robbery, sexual assault and drug trafficking in an attempt to follow a code of ethics based on chivalry. On the other hand, crimes such as blackmail and extortion are considered fair game.

Fraud, however, has until now existed in a sort of gray zone, and some syndicates have actively pursued such activity when they need some extra cash.

Last month, however, the Inagawa-kai may have changed the way syndicates in general view such activity, warning all members of the country’s third-largest crime group that they should refrain from participating in furikome sagi (bank transfer scams).

The missive tells members that targeting the elderly won’t be tolerated, saying that it’s a crime to “rob individuals of the money they need to live” and describing such actions as “low and despicable.”

The warning more than likely puts gang members in a bind. Revenue has plummeted drastically since the novel coronavirus emerged at the beginning of this year, with gang members unable to squeeze protection money out of bars and clubs that have been closed.

The police have also had a lot of spare time on their hands recently, and complaints from business owners have been receiving more attention than usual.

As a result, some gangsters have turned to fraud to make up for lost income, and this is when the top-ranking members of the Inagawa-kai decided to step in. With everyone suffering as a consequence of the pandemic, it’s pretty much the worst possible time to engage in such behavior.

More cynical readers could argue that the warning is simply a means of protecting senior members of the syndicate from potential lawsuits, as it’s possible to file a civil suit against the leaders of a gang for the actions of their rank and file.

Some syndicates have presented letters of expulsion as evidence in court when facing civil charges to avoid having to pay damages.

That said, I’m willing to give the Inagawa-kai the benefit of the doubt on this one. Maybe it really is trying to keep its operations respectable.

After all, syndicate founder Seijo Inagawa is quoted as taking partial responsibility for the creation of the country’s first anti-organized crime laws in 1992.

“The problem lies with us,” he said. “These laws exist because we’ve been bad. We should reflect on our actions.”

It appears as if the syndicate is finally following its own advice.

Dark Side of the Rising Sun is a monthly column that takes a behind-the-scenes look at news in Japan.

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