Global vice: the expanding territory of the yakuza: an interview with Jake Adelstein.


As the world furthers its interconnectedness, some criminal organizations formerly operating within a regional jurisdiction are now benefitting from transnational growth. Similar to international corporate expansion, members of organized crime in Japan, also called yakuza, have proven to be "innovative entrepreneurs," increasing their profits by extending their reach. (1) Based on his reporting on crime in Japan for more than twelve years, investigative journalist and author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan, Jake Adelstein, has uncovered compelling insights from the operations of modern yakuza and their reaction toward legal constraints. In an interview with Ania Calderon of the Journal, Adelstein discusses how the yakuza are transitioning into powerful organizations and becoming increasingly international. (2)

Journal of International Affairs: You have worked closely with the police in Japan on organized crime syndicates, and have been an investigative reporter with the U.S. State Department on the subject. How do the United States and Japan differ in their approaches to organized crime?

Jake Adelstein: The Japanese police are extremely limited in their investigative powers: they can't plea bargain, wire-tapping is so restrictive that it is almost useless and rarely applied, and now they are not supposed to have direct contact with members of Japanese organized crime--also called yakuza--making intelligence collection nearly impossible. There is no witness protection program and little incentive for a lower ranking yakuza to provide intelligence on those above him.

In fact, the negative incentives are huge: if he keeps his mouth shut, he gets a cash reward when released from jail, his family is looked after, and he will probably get a promotion. Since yakuza organizations usually provide lawyers to their members, if the member under arrest makes a confession or statement implicating his superiors, the organization will know. So if he cooperates, he doesn't get a lighter sentence, his organization will know he talked, and he loses financially. When he gets out of jail, he may lose his life or a finger, since there is no witness protection or witness relocation program. Who would cooperate in a case like that?

There is one interesting quirk in Japanese law: after the 2008 revision to the Organized Crime Countermeasures Act, it became possible for victims of a yakuza crime to sue senior bosses for the crimes of their subordinates. Tsukasa Shinobu, head of the Yamaguchi-gumi; the largest yakuza organization, and Goto Tadamasa, former Yamaguchi-gumi member and still a crime boss, was sued for the murder of Kazuo Nozaki, a real estate broker, in 2006. The case was settled out of court in October of 2012 for 1.4 million dollars to the family of the victim and Goto expressed his condolences.

Japan doesn't have a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, so the police use a hodge-podge of laws to arrest and suppress the yakuza. A criminal conspiracy act, which would allow the police to arrest senior yakuza for the crimes of their subordinates more easily, has been opposed by the ruling coalition for years. It doesn't help that one of the most powerful members of the Democratic Party of Japan...

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