Underworld organizations are stepping up their attacks on enterprises in the wake of efforts by prefectural governments to enforce bylaws that prevent businesses from distributing profits to gangsters and keep gangsters from participating in public works projects. These bylaws are also making it more difficult for gangs to collect protection fees from enterprises.

In the past, gangsters threatened businesses mainly by firing bullets at their buildings. Following the enforcement of the anti-gang bylaws, company presidents and executives themselves are being targeted. The crimes are premeditated, with few clues, if any, left in most cases. It appears that underworld organizations are trying to shift the status quo back in their favor.

The trend in Fukuoka Prefecture is especially worrisome; in 2011, the prefecture experienced a nation-leading 18 shooting incidents. In nine of the incidents, enterprises or their officials were the targets. On Nov. 26, a construction company executive was shot to death in Kokura Kita Ward, Kitakyushu. Last month, on Jan. 17, a construction company president was seriously injured when he was shot in the stomach and the arm by a man who approached him in front of a branch of his company in Nakama.

The police say that the two construction officials shot in Kitakyushu and Nakama had reportedly not been troubled by gangsters recently. Seven years ago, a bullet was fired at the house of the man shot in Nakama. He says he cannot think of a reason why he was targeted in January. Perhaps gangs are trying to intimidate the entire construction industry.

The central government plans to submit a bill to the Diet to further squeeze underworld organizations by revising the countermeasures for the underworld organizations law. If the bill is enacted, the police can designate gangs they believe to be posing a risk of harming individuals and enterprises as “special danger designated violent groups.”

If members of such groups make unreasonable demands to citizens and businesses, the police can immediately start an investigation. Currently, the police can’t start an investigation unless gangs ignore orders to stop making such demands.

Even if the bill is enacted, it won’t work if citizens and enterprises hesitate to report gangster-related activity to the police. The bill is also being criticized for violating freedom of expression, as it would restrict media coverage on gang-related issues. The Diet must fully discuss this aspect of the bill. The police, for their part, must conduct a thorough investigation of the shooting incidents across the nation while striving to protect citizens and businesses.

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