Five Ring Circus

02.07.14

The Yakuza Olympics

All eyes are on Russian corruption and incompetence at Sochi, but new reports have emerged about a likely link between Japanese Olympic officials and Japan’s infamous yakuza. Jake Adelstein reports on possible troubles for 2020.

In September of 2012, the U.S. Department of Treasury imposed sanctions on Japan’s second largest yakuza crime syndicate, the Sumiyoshi-kai and its leaders including Chairman Hareaki Fukuda. The sanctions make it possible to freeze their U.S. assets and block their transactions with American entities. They also forbid any US citizen to fraternize or associate with the group.

While Mr. Fukuda and his associates may be on the US government’s blacklist, apparently Japan’s Olympic Committee doesn’t find them unwelcome company. According to photos, documents, and testimony from Sumiyoshi-kai affiliated individuals and police sources, recently reviewed by the Daily Beast, the vice-chairman of Japan’s Olympic Committee, Mr. Hidetoshi Tanaka, was in the past good friends with Chairman Fukuda. According to the documents, he has had friendly relations with at least one Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime group boss and possibly members of other organized crime groups. The Japanese Olympic Committee has helped organize every bid for an Olympic Games by a Japanese city to date and plays a key role in carrying out the wishes of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and making sure the games run smoothly.

In addition, to Mr. Tanaka, Yoshiro Mori, a former Prime Minister of Japan, who is also reported to have had yakuza ties in the past by the Japanese press (by Mainichi Newspaper and Weekly Bunshun, among others), is the head of The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. He took the position January 24th.

Police sources have stated that they are investigating the extent to which both men were involved with the yakuza in the past and whether they have current ties to criminal organizations. The Tokyo Organized Crime Exclusionary Ordinances, in effect since October 1st 2011, makes it a crime for an individual or an organization to associate with the yakuza, provide them funds, or use their services. The yakuza currently number 60,000 people and being a member is not illegal. They are regulated but not outlawed. They have offices, business cards, and fanzines.

The controversy doesn’t give the 2020 Tokyo Olympics quite the “clean and crime-free” image that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s promised when luring the event to Japan. However, when one considers the popularity of Japan’s yakuza in books, magazines, and games—-in Japan and abroad—-maybe a “yakuza Olympics” could draw an unexpected number of tourists. Who knows? After all, the Sega’s Yakuza video games have sold over 6 million copies worldwide.

Sumo, Yakuza, and The Olympics

Mr. Tanaka is a distinguished figure in Japan’s sports world. He is a former amateur Sumo champion, president of the International Sumo Federation, and the chairman of the board of Nihon University, well known for its strong Sumo club. He is also a problematic person for the Sumo world, which was rocked by a scandal involving sumo wrestlers engaged in an illegal gambling ring run by Yamaguchi-gumi members in 2010. The Sumo Association pledged to end yakuza ties the same year.

“Under an executive order of President Obama, Americans are not supposed to associate or do business with members of the yakuza or their associates.”

According to a Sumiyoshi-kai associate and other attendees, the photo (below) was taken at a party commemorating the promotion of gang boss Mr. Fukuda to Chairman of the Sumiyoshi-kai in September of 1998, at the New Otani hotel. Tanaka allegedly came uninvited to the party to congratulate him, along with four other friends. In the lower left of the picture is the Japanese character for celebration: 祝.

There is a terrible irony in JOC members having possible yakuza ties that people in Japan understand better than most. The JOC has been running a “Zero Violence (暴力) in Sports” campaign since last year, designed to discourage the brutality common in Japanese sports. Sumo in particular has had problems with violence, and a sumo stable master was arrested for the fatal hazing of a young sumo wrestler in 2008. Yet, according to police sources, one of the JOC board members has been close to several yakuza, which Japanese police refer to as 暴力団/boryokudan aka violent groups.  According to the National Police Agency, in 2012, 4,933 yakuza were arrested for violent crimes such as assault and battery, inflicting bodily injury, and murder.

While the yakuza claim to be humanitarian groups promoting traditional Japanese values such as reciprocity and loyalty, in practice many of them are nothing more than violent thugs and a far cry from icons of good sportsmanship.

When not apparently hobnobbing with shady figures, Tanaka has been a strong advocate of making Japan’s national sport, Sumo, an Olympic event and lobbied hard for it. He has reportedly asked for help from some strange quarters—one of them a boss in Japan’s largest crime group, the Yamaguchi-gumi.

140206-adelstein-yakuza2-embed
Hidetoshi Tanaka, Japan Olympic Committee Vice Chairman (far left) and Hareaki Fukuda, Sumiyoshi-kai Chairman (far right) taken at the New Otani Hotel in September of 1998 at a celebration of Fukuda's ascendancy to the Sumiyoshi-kai chairman position. ()

According to statements submitted to the prosecution in a fraud case against Yamaguchi-gumi consigliore Kyo Eichu, Tanaka sought yakuza help in trying to push for Sumo’s recognition as an Olympic sport. According to testimony, in March of 1996, Tanaka visited Kyo Eichu’s home and the two discussed getting funds to build a Sumo stadium in Osaka. Kyo pledged to use all his power and political connections to help make sure Sumo was an Olympic event by 2008. Unfortunately, Kyo who was on bail for charges of special breach of trust and corporate tax violations, jumped bail in 1997 only to be later arrested in 1999—and didn’t make good on his promises. He was later convicted of the above mentioned charges in 2001 and ordered to pay the equivalent of $5 million in penalties. He has been on parole since 2013.

Tokyo Loves the Japanese Mafia

The Japan Olympic Committee not only has Tanaka on board, but the JOC sister organization, The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, is headed by former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori who is also well-known for his past social yakuza ties, according to Japanese law enforcement sources. Mori’s alleged organized crime ties are noted in the book, The Yakuza: Japan’s Criminal Underworld. Mori attended the wedding of an organized crime boss’s son and was close with a yakuza backed right wing group leader. In December 2000, pictures of then Prime Minister Mori appeared in the weekly magazine Shukan Gendai showing him drinking in an Osaka bar with a high-ranking Yakuza. The scandal hastened the end of his term as PM. Mori sued the publisher of the magazine for defamation but dropped the lawsuit in November of 2011.

Meanwhile, Tanaka’s alleged ties to the yakuza aren’t news to the alternative media. They have been written up in FACTA, the investigative journalism magazine that broke the story of the 1.7 billion dollar accounting fraud involving optical maker Olympus. Recently, Shukan Bunshun, Japan’s best-selling weekly magazine also has called his past into question.

Even Nihon University, apparently concerned over Tanaka’s alleged connections to anti-social forces, had a special investigation called by the Chairman of the Board (at the time) in 2005. According to a former Nihon University board member, it was staffed by six of Japan’s finest lawyer’s including a former head of the Public Security Bureau, Japan’s version of the CIA.

According to the August 17th, 2005 report produced in connection with the investigation, in the section, Relations with Organized Crime Associates (暴力団関係者との交際関係), Tanaka met with Kyo Eichu even after he skipped bail and was in hiding. It also asserts Tanaka was present at a party for a construction company where members of organized crime groups were also in attendance. The report notes: “It is problematic for a board member of our distinguished University to be attending private events with organized crime figures and members of the construction industry…. Tanaka denied all associations with the yakuza to the committee but it does not bear upon our findings.” Someone with knowledge of the investigation told The Daily Beast on background, “The committee did not have the power of the police and couldn’t reach definite conclusions. However, right wing groups threatened board directors who opposed Tanaka around the period the investigation took place. It’s not likely a coincidence.”

The question is why is this photo surfacing now? An organized crime analyst with the National Police Agency explains it as follows: “It may be a deliberate leak. The Sumiyoshi-kai is not happy with Mr. Tanaka. For years they supported him and several years ago, he apparently seemed to have changed alliances to the Yamaguchi-gumi. He reportedly has been associating with a high-ranking member of the Yamaguchi-gumi who is also on the US black list. A Yamaguchi-gumi connected company was granted a security contract with Nihon University. That doesn’t sit well with his old friends.”

Police are now worried, according to Japanese government sources, that Mr. Tanaka and perhaps even Mr. Mori could be conduits to organized crime influence in the games. There is certainly a lot of money at stake. The National Construction Industry Association of Japan estimated 2020 Olympic constructions costs to be as much as $3,800,000,000.

A police source notes, “There are billions of dollars worth of construction planned for the 2020 Olympics. The construction industry is still a huge cash cow for the yakuza and they are estimated to consume 5% of annual profits. If they had a ‘friend’ in the JOC who could get them insider information, it would help their front companies secure lucrative contracts or they could sell the information to major construction companies for a hefty profit and a promise of subcontracting work.”

US government officials who are aware of possible friendly connections between JOC members and yakuza commented on background. “Under an executive order of President Obama, Americans are not supposed to associate or do business with members of the yakuza or their associates. If one or more of them is in charge of running Japan’s Olympics it raises a number of issues. We hope that our Japanese counterparts will take a serious look at the issue.”

Nihon University’s public affairs department speaking on behalf of Mr. Tanaka said, “The photo was taken a long time ago and he has no memory of the event. He attended many parties in the past. Mr. Tanaka has met Kyo Eichu but they had no special relationship.”

The office of Mr. Mori responded, “He is currently at the Sochi Olympics and can’t be reached for comment.”

It’s possible that Mr. Tanaka and Mr. Mori no longer have tight associations with the yakuza and that they are as clean as the snow in Sochi, if there was snow in Sochi. There was a time in Japan, decades ago, when socializing with the yakuza was acceptable. It is not any longer; in fact, it’s against the law. Tokyo has vowed to make the 2020 Olympics safe and “drug free.” Let’s hope it can also keep them yakuza free as well.