Japanese Yakuza Arrests and Membership Numbers

in Transnational Crime

Police in Japan arrested over 24,000 yakuza members across the country in 2012. Included in the arrests were 23 bosses of the Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest organized crime syndicate in Japan. The crimes that the members were arrested for included extortion, illegal drugs, illegal gambling, theft and fraudulent activities.

In addition to arrests, yakuza groups across Japan have seen its membership decline in recent years.  According to intelligence by the National Police Agency, the recent high in membership occurred in 2004, where there were 87,000 yakuza members. Membership was declining roughly 3 percent each year until 2011, when the number of yakuza dropped 11 percent. It dropped another 10 percent in 2012 to leave a total of 63,200 members at the start of 2013.

(See additional information about today’s organized crime groups.)

Security officials in Japan and the United States attribute these declines to increase actions taken by financial regulators in both countries. In 2011, Japan passed a law making it illegal to conduct business with yakuza members. The United States Treasury Department also started to freeze the assets of the three largest yakuza gangs in the country. A freedom of information request by Bloomberg News found that two American Express cards issued to yakuza bosses were frozen.

Intelligence from security agencies state that the yakuza earns its revenue from various black market crimes, ranging from drug trafficking, human trafficking, prostitution, extortion and money laundering. Before the financial crackdown, the gangs were diversifying their income streams to include construction, waste management, and financial services.

Source:  Terje Langeland and Takahiko Hyuga, “Yakuza Bosses Whacked by Regulators Freezing AmEx Cards.” Bloomberg, October 22, 2013.

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