Japanese police arrest suspected gangsters over 2011 construction murders

Six members of a Japanese yakuza gang have been arrested over the 2011 shooting of a construction worker in an attempt to force his employer to pay protection money.

The worker, who was in his 50s, was working for the Shimizu Corporation in Kitakyushu, a city of about 1 million inhabitants in the southern island of Kyushu.

According to Japanese police, a group led by Futoshi Urita, 54, a senior member of the Kudo-kai crime syndicate, shot the victim in the abdomen with a handgun. The attack, which was made through a car window, was presumed to be a warning to other construction firms in Kitakyushu of what would happen if they did not pay a "tax" to the Kudo-kai.

Prosecutors are also investigating whether Urita was involved in another killing, carried out nine months after the Shimizu shooting. In this incident, Toshihiro Uchino, the 72-year-old chairman of the Hakushin Kensetsu construction firm was shot dead in front of his home after returning from a sumo tournament.

The motive for that attack was believed to be because Hakushin was to have picked which subcontractors would work on a construction project. According to the Japanese Times, yakuza often receive money to help small firms find work.

The murders were particularly shocking given Japan’s low rate of firearm-related homicide. This is about six per 10 million people per year; the equivalent for the UK is 23 and for US is more than 1,000.

The 3% gang tax

Kyushu island has been the largest source of yakuza members since the 19th century, and Kitakyushu is considered the birthplace of Japan’s modern organised crime gangs.

Contractors in Kitakyushu that sought to sever links with yakuza groups have been subject to punishment attacks for more than 10 years, police said.

A senior member of Kudo-kai claimed during his trial in May that up to 3% of the order volume of every construction company in Kitakyushu was paid to gangsters. During that trial at the Fukuoka District Court, prosecutors said the Kudo-kai extorted about $1m from construction companies each year and attacked those that refused to pay.

Police are investigating whether Satoru Nomura, 70, the former head of the crime syndicate, ordered the attacks.

According to Japan Today, Nomura, has been indicted on charges related to other crimes, including the killing of the head of a local fishery cooperative in 1998 and evading some $2.9m in income tax.

Japanese police launched a crackdown on the Kudo-kai following the arrest of Nomura, and its membership has reportedly fallen from about 1,200 to about 600.

Headquartered in plain sight

In the past, the authorities have described the gang as a "particularly nefarious" and "grossly vicious" group of yakuza. It has a history of public violence, on one occasion in 1998 attacking the city’s Chinese consulate with shotguns and a dump truck, apparently as the result of a feud with a Chinese gang.

The gang, which was formed before the second world war, has long targeted the Kitakyushu construction industry. As well as running protection rackets, their activities have unlawful involvement in public construction projects, as well as legitimate businesses such as commerce and trade.

The group maintains a public headquarters in the centre of Kitakyushu. The Kudo-kai Hall is a four-storey white building surrounded by tall walls, barbed wire and security cameras.

Image: Kitakyushu city is considered to be the birthplace of the modern yakuza (Cimiquin/Creative Commons)

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