'Sokaiya gangsters get their salaries from banks, their bonuses from securities companies and their pocket change from other industries,' according to a popular saying quoted by Hideaki Kubori, a lawyer who specialises in helping companies cut links with racketeers. The assumption that most financial institutions are linked to crime gangs in Japan is reflected in countless comments, opinion surveys and the weight of evidence provided by a long string of scandals involving different institutions over long periods. Banks are the main source of sokaiya income because they place so much importance on having a clean image and yet, Mr Kubori said, 'there is no bank without some trouble or scandal that needs to be covered up'. 'At first gangs would do stuff like send compromising photographs to the chairman of a bank showing him having sex with a young boy or some such thing and promising to distribute them at the next shareholder's meeting unless the bank paid money. Eventually, banks and other companies found it cheaper and easier to just use the gangsters as hired guns and have them take care of assorted troubles,' Nippon Detective Association chairman Michinao Kodama said. 'Although sokaiya are usually associated with a specific gang, they will also serve as a link with other gangs depending on the nature of the service required. If it is a problem with a certain golf course development, for example, they will use the sokaiya to talk to the gang involved,' said Takakazu Nakamori, an official at Teikoku Databank, a company that identifies gangster front companies on behalf of clients. The sokaiya are also believed to be used as a backdoor link to Japanese politicians. Mr Kubori said: 'Banks have told me they do not want to cut their links to sokaiya because they do not want to turn gangsters and politicians into their enemies.' 'Japan in that sense is like the United States in the 1920s and 1930s when there were certain well-known political figures who were assumed to be links between the underworld and the political world.' According to Naohiko Nomachi of the Shareholders Ombudsman, a group of lawyers in Osaka fighting to end gangster control of shareholders meetings, 'the link between financial institutions, gangsters and politicians goes back to the right-wing power brokers of the 1960s like Yoshio Kodama and continues to this day with such politicians as former prime ministers Yasuhiro Nakasone, Noboru Takeshita and Kiichi Miyazawa'. Mr Kubori said the assumption of Mr Takeshita's connection stems in part from an incident several years ago in which right-wing sound lorries (almost always a front for gangs) engaged in 'murder by flattery', by going around Mr Takeshita's constituency and praising him extravagantly. Mr Takeshita managed to call the lorries off without going to the police, leading to the impression the problem was resolved by unofficial means. Securities companies have also made extensive use of sokaiya over the years, the sources said. 'When a company is newly listed on the stock exchange the securities company will include a set of sokaiya as a part of the listing package,' Mr Nomachi said. 'The aim is to provide the company with a backdoor link to politicians and gangs and to give them a way to deal with troubles.' Insurance, distribution, construction, food and retail companies are often linked to sokaiya, the sources said. They are easy to blackmail because of the need for a clean image. The Shareholders Ombudsman has been going through the shareholders registries to see how many listed companies are linked to gangsters, Mr Nomachi said. 'It is not always easy to identify a sokaiya but, our preliminary estimates are that 80 per cent of companies use them.' Japan's internationally competitive manufacturers, on the other hand, are believed to be relatively free of sokaiya links, Mr Kubori said. Police are reported to be using the recent arrests of officials from Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank and Nomura Securities for making payments to gangsters as a warning to other companies. They are also, according to Japanese media reports, calling officials at other banks and telling them to cut their links with the gangsters. Unfortunately, few are expected to heed the call. 'It is almost impossible to end a relationship with a gang once it has started,' said Hitoshi Yamada, of the Japanese bar association's organised crime committee. 'The gangsters are not going to take this lying down. They will do everything in their power to make sure companies do not cut them off. They will probably murder someone soon to set an example,' Mr Nakamori warned.