Police struggle to prevent gangsters from profiting in disaster areas

February 01, 2013

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Police are trying to prevent gangsters from profiting on the many rebuilding projects in the Tohoku region, but the huge demand for workers is making it difficult to keep yakuza out of the disaster areas.

A number of gang-related arrests have been made, and workers and companies are being checked for ties to crime syndicates. Yet officials suspect mob involvement is rife in areas still recovering from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

“Gangs are capitalizing on the post-quake labor shortage,” an official of the Iwate prefectural police said.

Miyagi prefectural police say they have been flooded with inquiries from local governments on whether businesses planning to take part in disaster-related public works projects are connected to gangs.

The number of such inquires has doubled since the disasters struck on March 11, 2011, due to the sharp increase in public works projects.

Many businesses from outside Miyagi Prefecture have approached the Miyagi prefectural government seeking involvement in the reconstruction projects.

Miyagi police, at the request of prefectural government officials, researched the companies and identified some with gang ties. Those companies were not hired by the prefectural government.

However, a police official said the yakuza-related companies that police can identify are “just the tip of the iceberg.”

Police suspect that crime syndicates are even pretending to expel members so that they can be sent to the disaster areas disguised as honest volunteer workers.

The gangs' members can befriend residents, seek information on money-making schemes and set up a foothold for their organizations to conduct business, according to police.

At least two gangsters were arrested in 2011 on suspicion of sending laborers to construction sites in Iwate Prefecture. The Worker Dispatch Law prohibits the use of staffing services for construction projects.

One of the suspects is a senior member of a gang affiliated with the Sumiyoshi-kai crime syndicate. He was arrested in July in connection with temporary housing construction projects in Otsuchi.

The other suspect is a member of a gang affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi. He was arrested in October over a project to repair a quake-damaged commercial facility in Kitakami.

The laborers in those two cases allegedly received only part of their wages, indicating that the gangsters had siphoned off the remainder, according to police sources.

Gangs are also targeting projects related to the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

On Jan. 31, a senior member of a gang affiliated with the Sumiyoshi-kai was arrested on suspicion of sending laborers to a decontamination project in Date, Fukushima Prefecture, in November.

It was the first arrest of a gangster over suspected involvement in a project to remove radioactive substances in areas around the Fukushima plant.

The suspect did not have a license for staffing services. He was also arrested earlier in January on suspicion of sending laborers to construction projects.

“We check lists of laborers to see whether they have ties with anti-social forces,” a Date official said, using the euphemism for crime syndicates. “But it requires too much effort to find out who dispatched those laborers.”

An official of a company based in Fukushima city and involved in decontamination work expressed concerns that gang-tied laborers could sneak into its work force because businesses are all shorthanded.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Workers use a pressurized sprayer to remove radioactive substances from the roof of a home in Fukushima in February 2012. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Workers use a pressurized sprayer to remove radioactive substances from the roof of a home in Fukushima in February 2012. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • Workers use a pressurized sprayer to remove radioactive substances from the roof of a home in Fukushima in February 2012. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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