Yakuza kingpin sentenced to death for 'terrorism' spree
A key member of Japan's powerful Sumiyoshi-kai underworld group yesterday was sentenced to hang for a series of shootings that ended with five people dead, including three members of the public.
The shootings were part of an internal power struggle within the yakuza group, the second-largest in Japan with about 10,000 members.
Osamu Yano's actions were described by a Tokyo District Court judge as 'indiscriminate terrorism'.
In February 2002, Yano, then 54, accompanied two gunmen to a Tokyo hospital, where one of them smashed the window of the intensive-care unit before his accomplice shot Takashi Ishizuka.
Ishizuka had been shot in the arm and stomach two days earlier and was under police guard when he was murdered. Authorities were embarrassed that two officers were outside his room when he was shot.
Yano was also found guilty of ordering subordinates to open fire in a bar in the city of Maebashi, north of Tokyo, in January 2003 in an attempt to assassinate Masato Kohinata, a senior member of the affiliated Yano Mutsumi-kai gang. Another gangster was severely wounded in the attack - dubbed the 'Maebashi bar massacre' by the tabloid press - while three other patrons died.
The two attacks were apparently in retaliation for the shooting in August 2001 in Tokyo of three Sumiyoshi-kai gangsters at a funeral at Yotsugi Crematorium. Two of the men died of their wounds after two gunmen from the Omaeda Ikka splinter group, posing as mourners, opened fire indiscriminately at the 700 people present.
Kazumi Yoshikawa was subsequently sentenced to life in prison and Takashi Endo was given a 20-year term, although questions were again raised about how the gunmen managed to gain access to the funeral. Police had surrounded the crematorium in anticipation of trouble and it was not clear how the weapons were smuggled inside.
Yano had pleaded not guilty to all the charges, saying the statements by the other gangsters that he had ordered the attacks were lies.
Presiding Judge Yoshifumi Asayama dismissed his claims and ruled that he had organised the attacks.
'The defendant involved three members of the public who happened to be in the bar, and this could be called indiscriminate terrorism,' he said. 'The defendant realised that shooting in the bar would involve people other than his target, but he did not order his accomplices to be careful so that they would not shoot other people.'
The incidents led to a nationwide crackdown on underworld groups, with the focus on seizing illegal handguns, as well as legal changes. Specifically, gang members who order their subordinates to carry out a killing now can be charged with murder, and Yano is the first to feel the full force of the new law.