Japan

03.18.15 5:18 PM ET

Is The Yakuza Behind Caroline Kennedy Death Threats?

Tokyo police are looking into a political group with ties to the Japanese mob as it investigates death threats made to against Ambassador Caroline Kennedy.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police are investigating telephoned death threats against U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy. The individual or individuals who made the calls are facing charges over “forcible obstruction of business” and “making threats.”

Authorities told The Daily Beast that the bulk of the calls were made to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo in February. They said the embassy had received similar calls targeting Alfred Magleby, the consul general based on the southern island of Okinawa, home to about half of the 50,000 U.S. troops based in Japan.

The calls to the embassy were made last month by a man who spoke English, but with a possibly Japanese accent. The reports suggested that the threats might have been part of a scheme to blackmail Kennedy or the embassy.

A police officer on background said that among many suspects they were looking at several right-wing groups in Japan backed by the yakuza, Japan’s omnipresent mafia. One group high on the lists of suspects is Daikosha, the political arm of the Inagawa-kai, Japan’s third largest yakuza organization. According to the U.S. Treasury Departement, “under the leadership of Jiro Kiyota (the supreme leader) and Kazuya Uchibori (the chairman of the board), the Inagawa-kai has become increasingly aligned with the (Japan’s largest yakuza organization) the Yamaguchi-gumi.”

Ironically, Daikosha is considered loosely connected to the Abe administration, including Hakubun Shimomura, Japan’s Minister of Education, via its supporters and members. Mr. Shimomura is in trouble for accepting a number of dubious political donations via unofficial political support groups, one of them led by an associate of the Yamaguchi-gumi. Shimomura also allegedly received cash payment from the yakuza associate as well.

Daikosha has recently been protesting and demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Abe and the repeal of the organized crime control ordinances. They have staged protests near the U.S. embassy several times.

According to several issues of the Daikosha 2012 publication, Taiko, the special advisor to the group is Kazuya Uchibori, the chairman of the Inagawa-kai, who was designated an enemy of the U.S. government by the Department of Treasury in January of 2013.

The yakuza are reputedly the world’s largest criminal organization with over 45,000 members, and are involved in transnational criminal activity, including weapons trafficking, prostitution, human trafficking, drug trafficking, fraud, and money laundering.

On January 23, 2013 The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Jiro Kiyota, the top Inagawa-kai leader, as well as the Inagawa-kai’s second-in-command, Kazuo Uchibori, for acting for or on behalf of the Inagawa-kai.

The sanctions had some effect, according to reports by Bloomberg, “Uchibori, who is 60 or 61 years old, also had his AmEx card canceled, and American Express froze $42,575 associated with his account, including a bill payment of $41,702.”

One of the vice-chairman of Daikosha is also a former Inagawa-kai member who served time for murder. The Yamaguchi-gumi and The Inagawa-kai are connected by a pledge of brotherhood between Uchibori and a senior member of the Yamaguchi-gumi Kodokai, the ruling chapter of the Yamaguchi-gumi.

Police sources refused to reveal why this organization, Daikosha, has aroused particular interest in the Kennedy case, stating, “There are elements of the threats that only the criminal would know and this information will be used to weed out false confessions as the investigation proceeds.”

Daikosha is a registered political organization in Japan with a declared income of roughly $550,000 last year, from advertising revenue in its magazines and donations. Some advertisers appeared to be large hotels that are “Official Hotels Of Tokyo Disneyland"—although the hotels have denied paying money to the group. Since October 2011, paying money to the yakuza or its associates is a crime. 

According to police sources, Daikosha’s real estimated income is closer to $6 million a year, some of it coming from extortion, with at least a fifth of it being paid to the Inagawa-kai coffers. Because it is a registered political entity and the number of former yakuza in the organization is relatively low, it is not considered officially a yakuza group and escapes many of the sanctions of “designated violent groups” under Japanese law.  Internally, the Japanese police consider it a part of the Inagawa-kai itself. While ostensibly supporting a return to an Emperor based constitution and being extremely nationalist, a large number of its members are Korean-Japanese.

The Inagawa-kai offices are located across from the Ritz Carlton Tokyo and are a few minutes from the U.S. Embassy by car.

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It is not the only “anti-social” group being looked at present in the Kennedy case.

The United States Department of State Diplomatic Security Service has special agents assigned to work with the police and protect Ambassador Kennedy but the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department leads all such investigations. U.S. law enforcement officials at the embassy are not allowed to carry firearms, the police say. According to some police sources, this is not the first time that threats have been made to the Ambassador. There was a flurry of them when Ambassador Kennedy tweeted her disapproval of the annual dolphin culling in Taiji.

These kinds of cases aren't unprecedented. In September of 2011, the Tokyo Police arrested a Yamaguchi-gumi-backed right-winger, age 46, for sending a bullet to the Russian embassy with a menacing note and threatening the ambassador and embassy staff. He was angry over Russian refusal to return the northern territories to Japan. However, Japan's right wing has traditionally shown some deference to the U.S.

Japanese police officers were somewhat skeptical of the threat level. “When a yakuza group or extremists really targets an individual for death, they don’t send multiple warnings first. They just take action.”

The threats against Kennedy were made days after Mark Lippert, the U.S. envoy to South Korea, was attacked and injured by a knife-wielding assailant. South Korean police said the attacker had targeted Lippert to protest joint military drills conducted by the U.S. and South Korea. 

Ambassador Kennedy is the 57-year-old daughter of former President John F. Kennedy, and took over the Tokyo post in 2013 after being nominated by President Barack Obama.