Feature Articles

September 2000

Round Up The Usual Suspects

By John William Tuohy

John William Tuohy is a writer who lives in Washingon, D.C.

compiled by John William Tuohy

Liechtenstein: The government here said it will form a police force designed to fight organized crime and open an office where tip-offs about alleged money laundering can be reported. The country also announced it will apply harsher penalties against organized crime.

    Liechtenstein is the only nation in Europe named by the Group of Seven nations as ``non- cooperative'' in pursuing financial crime. Three weeks ago, the Liechtenstein Bankers Association said it will require trustees and other intermediaries to name clients who deposit money.

Tokyo: The NKK Corporation allegedly paid a total of 6 million yen ($55,000) to several unidentified "sokaiya" or corporate extortionists in 1998.

    The payment took the form of subscription fees to newsletters published by the gangsters. The tax office identified the payments and is asking for additional taxes from NKK, Japan's third-biggest steelmaker, saying that the payment can't be considered a business expense.

    NKK was paying the subscription fees, though it stopped after it was notified by police in September 1997, the company said in a press release. It paid the tax office to settle the dispute.

Tokoyo: Two people were killed and five others injured at a rightist group's office in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Monday afternoon in a shooting incident involving the rightists and a rival group within the same crime syndicate, police said.

    Tetsuo Nagashima, 52, and Hideo Takahi, 49, of a gangster group associated with the Sumiyoshi-kai crime syndicate were killed in the conflict. Of the five injured, four from the group and one from the rival rightist group Sofusha (Blue Wind Group), one has fallen into a coma, the police said.

    About 15 knife-wielding members of the gangster group stormed the Sofusha office in a building in the ward's Kojimachi district at around 3:20 p.m. Two of the three Sofusha members occupying the office then fired shots, they said.

    The police later seized two handguns and arrested the three Sofusha members for possessing firearms. Investigators are searching for those who fled the scene.

    Investigators believe the incident is a case of intra-group conflict. Sofusha, consisting of more than 30 members, was established in 1983 by gangsters affiliated with the Sumiyoshi-kai. Its leader recently resigned and there were rumors that the rightist group would be disbanded by the end of July.

    The police also received information that knife-wielding gangsters besieged the Sofusha office to collect loans and are confirming whether it is true, police sources said.

    The eight-story building where the shooting took place is located in a business district some 200 meters west of Kojimachi Station on the Yurakucho subway line. A dormitory for House of Councillors members is located behind the building.

    Sofusha moved its office to the fourth floor of the building in early July, the police said.

    Police arrested six men they identified as "yakuza" gangsters who took part in the attack. Police said the arrested men were among members of the Sumiyoshi-kai gang who stormed an office of the right-wing Sofusha (Blue Wind Group), also linked to the yakuza.

    Violence involving firearms is rare in Japan due to strict gun control laws and almost always involves organised crime groups.

    Yakuza organised crime syndicates have been hit hard by Japan's prolonged recession and the introduction in 1992 of a tough anti-gangster law that squeezed the gangs' traditional sources of income such as gambling and corporate extortion.

MADRID: Italian mobster Giovanni Greco, facing extradition from Spain, is said by his lawyer to have fled to an unknown destination.

    Spanish police have been searching for Greco, 44, since last Friday when the cabinet gave the green light for his extradition to Italy.     The decision followed a change in Spanish law two weeks ago aimed at closing loopholes that had earned the country a reputation as a safe haven for organised crime fugitives.

    If Greco were returned to Italy, he would face a hefty prison term imposed in his absence for a series of crimes including hold-ups and Mafia connections. He would also face trial on charges of kidnap and two murders committed in 1983.

    Greco, who had lived in Spain for much of the past 20 years, was arrested on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza in late 1997. Since his release on bail in March 1999, he is believed to have been living in Majorca with his wife and three children.

    Until now Spanish courts have declined to act in extradition cases concerning convicted criminals who were tried in their absence, providing a loophole for hundreds of Mafia members thought to be hiding in Spain.

    In June El Pais reported that an Italian justice official had complained that Spanish police had blocked more than 1,000 extradition orders against convicted members of the Mafia because they had been tried in absentia.

California: A former Orange County prosecutor has pleaded guilty to a federal drug-trafficking conspiracy charge.

    Bryan Ray Kazarian, a former Orange County deputy district attorney, and eight co-defendants pleaded guilty to charges related to a drug ring that produced and distributed methamphetamine and cocaine, according to court documents released Monday.     Kazarian was arrested in June 1999. Prosecutors alleged he leaked information to a friend, John David Ward, who allegedly ran a $1 million-a-week methamphetamine ring.

    A trial is scheduled to begin in two months for six remaining defendants, including the alleged ringleaders: Ward and Howard Irvine Coones, founder of the local chapter of the Hells Angels motorcycle club.

Toronto: To make the Canada a less attractive hub for global criminal activity, the province of Ontario plans to introduce tough legislation this fall that would allow police to seize the assets of individuals believed to be engaged in organized crime before they are convicted of an offense.

    At a Toronto conference on fighting international organized crime, the province's attorney general, James Flaherty, said he would introduce legislation that would enable the freezing and seizure of assets obtained by illegal means.

    Because property rights are not entrenched in the Canadian Constitution, it is possible to seize assets before criminal judgments are reached, the attorney general argued.

    At present, people facing criminal charges would be able to move assets out of the country before a conviction is obtained, thereby allowing illegal activities to continue without disruption, Flaherty said. "Canada has not done enough to fight organized crime. The Criminal Code hasn't done very well."     Money laundering estimated at about C$17 billion ($11.5 billion) a year is done annually in Canada, half of that in the province of Ontario, he said.

    Flaherty said he would like to introduce a system whereby police would be able to seize assets and freeze bank accounts of suspected organized criminals as part of a search warrant, granted by a judge to obtain evidence.

    Experts at the conference said Canada is an important beachhead for global organized crime because of its long, largely unprotected, border with the U.S., easy access to its financial sector, and weak justice and prison systems.

    Before Bill C-22, the federal government's money-laundering legislation, was passed this year Canada was a "near perfect laundromat," said Antonio Nicaso, an international expert on organized crime and author of the book "Mafia's Code".

    Recently, some officials in the United States threatened to put Canada on its "major list" of countries that do little to combat drug traffickers, in response to Canada's growing role as the North American conduit for marijuana, speed, and designer drugs such as ecstasy.

    Organized criminals have also used Canada as a landing point for illegal Chinese immigrants on their way to the U.S., with nearly 600 people detained last summer after arriving on Canada's Pacific Coast.

    Nicosa said as many as 15 major criminal groups work together in Canada to slice up criminal profits, rather than sticking to their individual turf as is the case with motorcycle gangs.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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