By Clarence Walker, Investigative Crime Journalist
Intelligent gangsters wanted: Any guys out there ready to work in the underworld?
If so, Japan's organized crime syndicates need immediate assistance. They need extra muscle to run prostitution rings, drug trafficking, collect debts, assassinating rivals and shaking down bar owners. To join this outfit - a candidate might think a blood oath must be taken, as with the La Cosa Nostra mafia -or undergo an initiation and commit murder.
Well...guess what? None of the above apply. The exquisite requirements are like returning to school and involve an academic challenge., so with pen and paper, a potential player must take a gangster test! Thats right. No violence required to prove your manhood.
To qualify, it's all about mind power, and make a passing score on a written exam provided by a thoughful crime boss.
Why should a wannabe thug take an academic test? Here's why: Japan's largest and most notorious organized crime group, the Yamaguchi-gumi, with an estimated 40,000 members, has devised legal protection by having current members and those seeking work in the underworld take a gangster test to show understanding of Japan's revised Anti-Organized Crime Law, and police say the gangster exam has been distributed to Japan's organized crime groups across the nation.
Basically, if a crime is committed by subordinates from a given crime syndicate, and even if the boss had no direct involvement in said crime, the new revised law allows citizens to sue the syndicate for damages ranging up to millions of dollars. Lawsuits can be filed against syndicates regarding shoot outs, extortions, assaults, murder, public brawls, and shootings liable to harm or severely injure innocent parties and civil lawsuits have been filed by concerned citizens, politicians and government officials who are fed up with blatant organized crime in their districts.
Now that lawmakers have strengthened the law, the crime bosses, already dealing with the decline of the economy which hinders efforts for the outfits pursuit of raking in astronomical dollars, has came under fire to school their gangsters about the law to stave off future multi-million dollar lawsuits.
According to Wikipedia, "the Yamaguchi-gumi is one of the world's wealthiest gangs, commanding billions of dollars a year from extortion, gambling, the sex industry, guns, drugs, real estate and construction kickback schemes." They are also involved in stock market manipulation and internet pornography.
"Civil action is growing across the country," said Yasushi Murakami, a lawyer who represented 160 residents of Tokoyo's Akasaska district. After several months of legal action against organized crime groups, the Akasaska residents finally scored a major victory this past April to banish the 'Inagawa Kai Syndicate' from their district.
Murakami added, "people are refusing to tolerate gangsters."
With recent injunctions leveled against various Japan-based crime syndicates, the Yazuka crime bosses have been edgy about the law, passed in 2008.
Here's why: If a citizen sues a syndicate and wins the damages can result in millions of dollars against highly-ranked leaders who are legally responsible for the criminal actions of their street-level members.
In September 2008, two top members of the Sumiyoshi-kai underworld group agreed to pay Y97.5 million (640,000) to the relatives of a man shot dead when three gunmen opened fire in a bar in 'Gunma Prefecture'. During the fracas, three citizens were killed when the gangsters tried to assassinate a rival gang boss who survived the attempt on his life.
The gangster exam was discovered during police investigation of a Yazuka-related murder in Western Japan. The Mainichi Shimbun news media reported: Police found a 12-question exam paper, complete with model answers.
Questions included, "what kind of activities are banned?"
(A) industrial waste dumping.
(B) bootlegging fuel.
(C) theft of construction vehicles.
(D) phone fraud scams.
(E) all of the above.
If a candidate answered "E" they answered correctly.
Another question: "What are you required to do in all your activities?"
If the person says, "consult with my bosses", he answered correctly.
"Its all about money," said Jake Adelstein, an author who has written extensively about Japan's underworld groups.
"When you think about it, this is an extremely sensible move. The Yamaguchi-gumi is essentially a gigantic corporation and if you are running a company of this scale, the first thing you want to do is reduce your liabilities."
"Gang leaders don't want to pay hefty court fines because one of their men got into a bar fight and broke someone's jaw," Adelstein points out.
A Battle Against Organized Crime
Known as the Yakuza, Japanese gangsters have operated for decades from exclusive buildings adorned with blinking neon signs symbolizing their illegal trade throughout different districts.
Yakuza: The word means 'good-for-nothing', but the group were once romanticized as noble outlaws with a code of honor. Such prestige is slowly fading. And the reason for the Yakuza's declining popularity derives from the conflicts with the Akasaka citizens. Akasaka, an upscale business and entertainment district, underscores a dramatic change in the way Japan regards the underworld.
Of note, for years, criminal gangs in Japan were allowed to ply their illegal trade in exchange for payoffs to police and by cooperating with the law to keep turf wars in check and prevent their activities from spilling over into the law-abiding public section.
What caused the public revolt against the organized crime group was the continuing gang violence culminating in the death of prominent innocent citizens. For example, Iccho Ito, 61, the mayor of Nagasaki, was shot to death in broad daylight in April 2007 as he campaigned for re-election.
The killer, a member of the Yamaguchi clan, killed the mayor because he had a grievance against the city. The gangster has since been sentenced to die for the brazen crime.
The death of Mayor Ito outraged the public, who viewed the senseless murder as an attack on Japanese democracy. Shortly after Ito's killing, a policeman died in a shootout in central Japan.
"What we worry about most is our children," said Akasaka resident, Takako Takemura. "We just do not want gangsters in our neighborhood."
As gang violence spiraled out of control, the government firmly enforced gun law restrictions and racketeering laws. Last year, police and government officials held anti-gang seminars and provided protection to citizens as part of their assistance in more than 50 lawsuits filed by citizens seeking to keep gangs out of their neighborhoods.
The Akasaka settlement effectively bans the Inagawa-kai, Japan's third largest crime syndicate, from owning and moving into a three-story building located a few blocks from the headquarters of the Inagawi's rival, identified as Sumiyoshi-kai. The Sumiyoshi are the second largest crime group in Japan.
In the Minato ward area, the assembly group which oversees Akasaka has waged a fierce battle to prevent gang members from renting public housing. Another sign of frustration and ebbing tolerance for the gangs comes from the refusal by Japanese companies to pay organized crime protection money.
Citizens now living in northern Japan near the city of Sendal are seeking a court injunction against an affiliate of the Yamaguchi-gumi. In southern Japan a court agreed with 100 residents to ban the Yakuza from using an apartment building and an anger-incited mob in the city of Chikushino forced gang members from a two-story house later converted into a police station.
"It was possible because we stood up together against gangsters," says Masanori Hoashi, a Chikushino official. "Many people feel more strongly about guarding their community against organized crime."
Police have identified 22 groups nationwide as crime syndicates, with an estimated 80,000 members. Certainly the revamped anti-organized crime laws and the lawsuits filed by citizens are forcing gangs away from neighborhoods but apparently not enough damage has been done to take a serious bite out of the kind of crimes they commit. For instance, between 2007-2008, police arrested 27,169 organized crime members in 57, 524 cases.
According to Hideaki Alhara, head of the nonprofit Japan Crime Prevention, said, "If gangsters move out of one building, its not the end of the story because they are still around making trouble somewhere else."
Based on the police's discovery of secretive information demanding candidates to take exams for membership into a crime organization, as required by crime bosses, it seems the crime syndicates have already found loopholes in the law to absolve them from legal responsibility. For one, police found written retroactive letters of expulsion to prove a suspect was no longer a gang member at the time the person committed a crime.
The biblical wisdom reads, "Money is the root of all sorts of evil." Therefore ask yourself: If organized crime is about making money 'as it always has been', can die-hard gangsters play by the legal rules of law and still make illegal money without getting caught?
Now here's the moral of the story, among Japan's crime syndicates, and the gangster test to avoid lawsuits:
A written document found by police that was distributed by a Yazuka group said, "it is now illegal to give financial rewards or promote someone involved in a 'hit' against rival gang members. "But it is not illegal to give them a salary with a front company and promote them within that organization."
Now that's how organized crime really works because its all about making money and lawsuits will never stop it.
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