With his clean-cut image, Yomiuri Giants manager Tatsunori Hara appeared a natural fit for a Metropolitan Police Department poster in 2009 that called on citizens to refuse to pay extortion money to yakuza.
But now, Hara, 53, and Japan’s most popular baseball team are embroiled in scandal involving blackmail, a former lover and a pair of shady figures from Japan’s underworld.
Hara acknowledged he paid 100 million yen ($1.3 million) for the destruction of the diary belonging to a woman he had an extramarital affair with in 1988, when he was still a player with the Giants.
At a June 20 news conference, Yomiuri officials admitted to the payment, but insisted the money did not go to "anti-social elements," a code phrase used for organized crime figures.
However, The Asahi Shimbun has learned that the two men who blackmailed Hara were once members of yakuza gangs. One of the two men, as well as a number of law enforcement sources, acknowledged that the two blackmailers were connected to the yakuza.
According to sources, the two gangsters contacted Hara in late August 2006, when the Giants were on a road trip to Kumamoto. Hara did not know the two men, but he met them at a hotel, where they demanded 100 million yen in exchange for destroying the woman's diary.
Hara agreed to the request and made arrangements for the payment. A few days later, an individual connected with Hara's office met the two men at a Tokyo hotel and handed over 100 million yen. The diary was shredded at that time, according to the sources.
One of the two men said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun that the other individual actually received the money, but he died in a traffic accident in Otaru, Hokkaido, in September 2007.
In April 2009, the leader of the gang to which the dead man had belonged contacted Yomiuri officials.
"I want the diary that my underling gave to Hara returned to me," he was quoted as telling the Yomiuri brass. "That was originally in my possession."
Yomiuri officials consulted the police about the gangster’s request. They also learned from Hara that he had paid the 100 million yen in 2006.
In December 2009, he was arrested and indicted on charges of interfering with Giants team operations. He allegedly told a Yomiuri official: "Respond to my request. I have a bomb."
He was found guilty by the Tokyo District Court.
During their investigation into the former gang leader, police learned of Hara's 100-million-yen payment made in 2006.
However, Hara never filed a complaint with police.
The Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine broke the story and provided details in its latest issue, which went on sale June 21. The magazine wrote that Hara, after being threatened by former organized crime members, paid the blackmail money.
At the June 20 news conference, Yomiuri officials said they are planning to sue the magazine for libel on grounds that the money did not go to "anti-social elements."
Hara, for his part, released a statement on June 20 to Giants fans, admitting he had an affair with the woman around 1988.
"I became worried because I felt I was being blackmailed," he said in the statement. "I made an ill-advised decision."
After the team’s practice on June 20, Hara told reporters: "I want to sincerely apologize to the fans. At the same time, I am deeply reflecting on this incident."
Hideki Mochida, a lawyer knowledgeable about legal matters related to organized crime figures, said: "The issue is not whether the recipient of the money is an anti-social element or not, but the problem is the response made to an inappropriate request. The best solution is to refuse such requests from the very beginning.”
Mochida said Hara’s case clearly shows that if a target of extortion is seen as willing to pay, then additional requests for money will be made.
“The Giants should have encouraged the filing of a complaint with police as soon as they learned of the matter as a way of preventing similar requests from being made," Mochida said.
There are also differences between police and the Giants about why a complaint was never filed with police.
Yomiuri officials said that in 2009, Hara consulted with police over the matter. However, he eventually decided not to file a complaint because he was told it would be difficult to get to the bottom of the case since one of the two men involved had died in a traffic accident, the Yomiuri officials said.
But a number of law enforcement officials involved with the case at that time told The Asahi Shimbun that an investigation could not start because Hara would not file a complaint.
The self-admitted blackmailer who talked to The Asahi Shimbun said he belonged to a yakuza gang until about 1998. He was banished from the gang because of his money problems.
The other man was connected to an Osaka gang until his death in 2007.
The man who was the gang's leader until 2007 told The Asahi Shimbun that the gangster who died had told him that he successfully blackmailed Hara for 100 million yen over the destruction of the diary.
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