Skip to main content

Japan yakuza and banks: Mobster connections?

By Kevin Voigt and Junko Ogura, CNN
November 1, 2013 -- Updated 0803 GMT (1603 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Three of Japan's largest banks are under scrutiny for making loans to underworld groups
  • Mizuho has punished 54 executives loans to people affiliated with the yakuza, the Japanese mafia
  • Expert: "Yakuza have been tremendously successful because they can work out in the open"

Tokyo (CNN) -- As Japanese authorities widen their investigation into ties between financial institutions and organized crime, an investigative reporter says the current allegations have left with a sense of "déjà vu."

"In 2004, Citibank (Japan) lost their private banking license because they were allowing yakuza to do many complex transactions," Jake Adelstein, author of "Tokyo Vice" and an expert on Japan's mafia -- known as the yakuza -- told CNN. "They got spanked in 2009 for failing to update their databases and allowing yakuza to do business with them again.

The Financial Services Agency (FSA), the country's financial regulator, will send inspectors to Japan's three largest banks -- Mizuho Bank, Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ Bank and Sumitomo Mitsui Bank -- to "review over their corporate governance, legal compliance and overall risk management," said Hiroki Kato, director of the Inspection Bureau of the FSA. The on-site inspections are scheduled to begin next week.

All three banks declined to comment on the review when contacted by CNN.

Ties to gangs

Mizuho has already come under scrutiny after 54 executives, including the bank's president, were punished after it was revealed an affiliate made more than $2 million in loans to people with ties to organized crime.

Mizuho Financial Group chief executive Yasuhiro Sato apologizing for loans to gangsters in Tokyo on October 28.
Mizuho Financial Group chief executive Yasuhiro Sato apologizing for loans to gangsters in Tokyo on October 28.

Yakuza is the name given to Japan's organized crime syndicates. Adelstein -- the only American who has worked a crime beat for the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest newspaper -- has called them "Goldman Sachs with guns" because of the financial prowess and sometimes brutal means.

"The yakuza have been tremendously successful because they can work out in the open," Adelstein told CNN. "They have business cards, they have office buildings. People know who they are -- they have fan magazines and they have a lot of money."

Strict code

Members are said to follow a strict code of discipline -- and often sport full body tattoos. The biggest and wealthiest yakuza gang -- the Yamaguchi-gumi -- is said to number nearly 40,000 members. Robert Feldman of Morgan Stanley Japan once called the Yamaguichi-gumi "Japan's largest private equity group."

Belonging to a yakuza gang itself is not a crime. But members are known to engage in drugs, prostitution and gambling. After recent crackdowns by Japanese authorities, yakuza are making more strides into white-collar crime, experts say.

"So if you have a lot of money and a lot of information and you can use blackmail and extortion to do insider trading it can make quite a tremendous financial force," Adelstein said. "Yakuza have tremendous political connections and they have a lot of information to blackmail people."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 14, 2014 -- Updated 1043 GMT (1843 HKT)
For the first time in 24 years, Germany has lifted the World Cup after beating Argentina 1-0 in extra time.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
Do you know your gurkentruppe from your bananenflanken? CNN helps.
July 14, 2014 -- Updated 1129 GMT (1929 HKT)
Police moved in just one hour before Rui Chenggang was due to appear on air, leaving his anchor chair empty.
July 14, 2014 -- Updated 0927 GMT (1727 HKT)
A salvage team will attempt to float the ill-fated Costa Concordia again. CNN's Erin McLaughlin reports.
July 13, 2014 -- Updated 2058 GMT (0458 HKT)
Tichleman 1
A makeup artist, writer and model who loves monkeys and struggles with demons.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1029 GMT (1829 HKT)
Why are Iraqi politicians dragging their feet while ISIS militants fortify their foothold across the country?
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
An elephant, who was chained for 50 years, cries tears of joy after being freed in India. CNN's Sumnima Udas reports.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1634 GMT (0034 HKT)
People walk with their luggage at the Maiquetia international airport that serves Caracas on July 3, 2014. A survey by pollster Datanalisis revealed that 25% of the population surveyed (end of May) has at least one family member or friend who has emigrated from the country. AFP PHOTO/Leo RAMIREZ (Photo credit should read LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Plane passengers are used to paying additional fees, but one airport in Venezuela is now charging for the ultimate hidden extra -- air.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 0732 GMT (1532 HKT)
Beneath a dusty town in northeastern Pakistan, CNN explores a cold labyrinth of hidden tunnels that was once a safe haven for militants.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 0444 GMT (1244 HKT)
CNN's Ben Wedeman visits the Yazji family and finds out what it's like living life in the middle of conflict.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT