Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Yakuza Bosses Found Liable for Damages for Civilian Killing

These days the price of a standard civilian hit-job can run as high as $2 million. That’s not the price to get the job done―that’s the price if one of your underlings gets caught. The whole inflationary spiral started with one dumb yakuza stiffing McDonald’s on the price of a cheeseburger in Kyoto a few years ago.

The Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest organized crime group with 39,000 members and their notorious former underboss Tadamasa Goto (at left, from a 2005 video of a Yamaguchi-gumi celebration) are expected to reach a settlement this month with the family of a civilian killed in 2006. The surviving family members, represented by a group of 25 lawyers, filed the lawsuit last month, asking for ¥187 million in damages, or $2.4 million.

A potential key witness to the murder was extradited from Thailand on Thursday and arrested on the plane back to Japan―on charges of driving without a license―by Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department detectives, who were waiting on the plane. The police also plan to question him about the killing and, of course, his lack of respect for Japan’s rules of the roads.

The arrest has made all parties involved with the murder anxious to sweep the case under the table. Goto, former head of the disbanded Yamaguchi-gumi Goto-gumi, who has never faced any criminal charges for ordering the hit, is desperate to avoid being tried in civil court, and said to be willing to cut a deal. However, it's the current “CEO” of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Shinobu Tsukasa shown at right, who has the most to lose. At the time of the murder, he was in jail on gun possession charges, had no knowledge of the plan, and did not approve it, is not very happy to be cleaning up the mess. He doesn’t want to pay for a crime he didn’t commit or condone. Naturally. The whole thing is bad for business and terrible PR. It really damages the Yamaguchi-gumi corporate brand. And if the lawsuit actually goes to court, it could be a very bad legal precedent for “Yakuza Inc.”

According to those involved with the case and police sources, in 2006 Kazuo Nozaki, a real estate agent, was in a legal dispute with a Goto-gumi front company over the property rights to a building worth ¥2 billion ($26,000,000) in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo. On March 5 of that year, three members of the Goto-gumi waited for Nozaki to walk down a street in Tokyo’s upscale Kita-Aoyama area, and then one allegedly stabbed him to death with a kitchen knife. Of the three assailants, only two have been caught; criminal charges of ordering the hit were never filed against Goto.

The first hearing in the civil suit is tentatively scheduled for this month but sources on both sides say a settlement for the full amount is already being proffered by the Yamaguchi-gumi. A Yamaguchi-gumi middle manager said, “We don’t want this case to go to court. It could set a bad precedent. If this lawsuit were Apple versus Samsung, we’d be Samsung.”

It is an unusual lawsuit. Police sources say it represents the first time Japanese yakuza bosses have been sued for crimes pre-dating the 2008 revisions to the Organized Crime Countermeasures Law (暴力団対策法) which made it possible to hold organized crime bosses responsible for the actions of their underlings in civil court, by essentially recognizing yakuza groups as corporations.


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