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
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Pakistan Taliban say the school attack was revenge for the killing of children in a military offensive -- but they are being pressed by defections to ISIS.
A group that claims it hacked Sony Pictures has posted a public threat against moviegoers who see Sony's "The Interview."
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0948 GMT (1748 HKT)
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0212 GMT (1012 HKT)
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0012 GMT (0812 HKT)
A social media campaign condemning Islamophobia under the hashtag #illridewithyou has taken off after Sydney hostage siege.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
China-bound AirAsia flight turns back to Bangkok after passenger throws water over crew member.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
It takes Nepalese eye doctor, Sanduk Ruit about five minutes to change someone's life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1054 GMT (1854 HKT)
This epic journey crosses 13,000 kilometers, eight countries over 21 days. Find out where.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1431 GMT (2231 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT