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Features The Yakuza Landscape Today
Golden Crimes: Growing Smuggling Problem Exposed by High-Profile Robberies

Gold smugglers who evade consumption tax requirements at Japanese customs can make large profits by selling the precious metal at tax-inclusive prices. The trade has expanded since the 2014 hike in consumption tax to 8%, and the huge sums of money involved have led to robberies of gold and cash.

Gold Crimes in Fukuoka

Recent heists in Fukuoka have shone the spotlight on the shady gold trade in the Kyūshū city. In July 2016, men disguised as police officers took 160 kilograms of gold bars worth over ¥750 million in a roadside incident near the city’s main Hakata Station. Then in April of the following year, criminals made off with ¥380 million in cash—which had just been withdrawn from a nearby bank to exchange for gold—in a parking lot robbery in Fukuoka’s downtown Tenjin district.

In May 2017, 10 people mainly associated with a Nagoya hangure (non-yakuza) gang were arrested in connection with the first incident. From the end of October, 11 members of various groups in the greater Tokyo area and Osaka were apprehended in relation to the second. The link between the crimes and the gold trade, which is not well understood by the general public, is worthy of note in itself. What is more, in both cases the groups had prior knowledge of the transactions, which they used in precision planning of their crimes.

Nakagaki Ryūichirō was among the Nagoya gangsters arrested for the robbery near Hakata Station. He testified that someone he had got to know in prison approached him about faking a gold robbery as part of a tax dodge, and that the other party had agreed to the deception.

Police Disguises

A Fukuoka Prefectural Police officer involved in the investigation explains. “Nakagaki testified that he’d got the information from a fellow prisoner, but that by December 2016—five months after the incident, when the story had received major coverage—he’d lost contact with him. We suspect the original source was an even more distant connection, but we still haven’t got the full picture. In both cases, the person supplying the information said that the supposed victims had agreed to be part of the scam. It is possible they both had the same source.”

Nakagaki took the offer to criminal brothers Noguchi Naoki and Kazuki, who took a lead role in the robbery. They wanted confirmation that it was not yakuza money and that, because of the other party’s agreement, the police would not get involved. The source assured them that there was no yakuza connection and that the gold was smuggled, so there was no question of going to the police.

“When they went to look at the planned site for the crime, however, they saw that it was outside the station with people passing by all the time,” the investigating officer continues. “They couldn’t blatantly commit a robbery in broad daylight, so the Noguchis and others dressed as police officers, pretending to question the victims before stealing the gold. They exchanged 90 kilograms, worth around ¥430 million, for cash to split among the conspirators and gave the remaining 70 kilograms to the source. So far, everything had gone according to plan. But the robbery came to light with major media coverage several months later, sending them into a panic. ‘We thought they weren’t going to file a police report!’”

  • [2018.02.13]
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