Gang nets US$3.4 million in Fukuoka daylight robbery
Police in southern Japan are seeking a gang of three men who robbed a businessman of 364 million yen (HK$26 million), the fourth-largest heist in post-war Japan.
And experts believe the attack – carried out in broad daylight in a car park in the Tenjin district of Fukuoka City – may have been carried out by members of a local underworld group. If that is the case, it would mark a significant change in tactics of the region’s yakuza gangs.
The attack took place shortly after midday last Tuesday when the 29-year-old businessman, who works for a gold trading company in Tokyo, emerged from a bank with money he had just withdrawn in a black suitcase.
A frequent visitor to the city for business, the man was attacked in a car park by two men who sprayed what may have been tear gas in his face.
The two men then fled in a white Honda minivan driven by a third suspect, Jiji Press reported.
“There have been a series of robberies in Fukuoka over the last few years that have been attributed to yakuza gangs,” said Jake Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan and an expert on Japan’s underworld groups.
“Traditionally, these sorts of robberies are not something the yakuza get involved in, but the police crackdown on organised crime is being felt across Japan and it is possible they are turning to robberies because they are unable to make blackmail, extortion and all the other areas they usually specialise in turn a profit.”
According to police statistics, there were 39,100 members of organised crime groups in Japan in 2016. That figure is down 7,800 from the previous year and below the 40,000 level for the first time since the authorities first started tallying yakuza numbers in 1958.
The authorities attribute the gradual decline to a series of new laws that were introduced in 2011, including legislation that made it illegal for owners of legitimate businesses to pay protection money to gangsters.
Fukuoka’s underworld is also suspected of involvement in an even larger robbery last year, when a vehicle carrying gold bars worth 600 million yen was stopped in nearby Hakata.
In a possible connection with the most recent case, gold was involved in both cases.
“Police in Fukuoka will be looking very closely at this connection between the two cases because there are some clear similarities,” Adelstein said.
The authorities – including a 155-strong task force set up by police – believed they had made
a swift breakthrough on the same day of the heist after detaining three South Korean men carrying a large sum of cash at Fukuoka airport.
Closer inspection showed the men were carrying a larger amount of cash and that they did not match eye-witnesses’ description of the robbers.
Further investigations have shown the men were carrying the money to purchase vehicles in South Korea.