Yakuza to put away their guns after crime lord sentenced to be hanged

Yakuza bosses order their mobsters to put away their guns after crime lord is sentenced to be hanged in unprecedented judgement

  • Satoru Nomura, 74, is the head of the violent Kudo-kai yakuza crime syndicate
  • He was sentenced to death by Fukuoka District Court in west Japan on Aug 21
  • The sentence prompted Yamaguchi-gumi, a Kudo-kai rival to ban guns in public 
  • But the order is likely a ploy to give gang members legal footing in future cases
  • Yakuza membership levels are at a record low due to government pressure 
  • But mounting restrictions could push the crime syndicate to more violence 

Yakuza gang members have been ordered not to use their guns ‘in public’ after an infamous crime boss of a rival gang was sentenced to death by hanging in what is believed to be the first death sentence for a Yakuza kingpin in Japan.  

Satoru Nomura, head of the Kudo-Kai crime syndicate, was sentenced to death on Tuesday 21 August for murders committed by members of his gang as long ago as 1998.

The unprecedented decision by the Tokyo judge was a watershed moment in Japan, where gang membership is not illegal and the Yakuza operate openly.

The sentence prompted Yamaguchi-gumi, the country’s biggest crime organisation and Kudo-kai rival based in Kobe, central Japan, to issue an order banning their members from public use of guns. 

It comes at a time when membership numbers in the Yakuza are particularly low after years of mounting pressure from Japanese law enforcement, stricter regulation and the pandemic have stunted the crime syndicate’s growth. 

But many believe the order against guns is simply a ploy to provide gang members with legal footing so they can claim they have worked to reduce violence in future cases.

Satoru Nomura, head of the Kudo-Kai crime syndicate, was sentenced to death on Tuesday 21 August for murders committed by members of his gang as long ago as 1998 in an unprecedented judgment

 A horde of law enforcement officers entered the crime kingpin’s home as yet more officers stood guard

Recent years have proved difficult for Japan’s organised crime network after the number of yakuza members dropped to a record low of 25,900 last year, compared to 80,900 members in 2010 according to figures provided by the National Police Agency.  

The dramatic fall in membership is startling for the yakuza, who for years were able to operate with an incredible degree of freedom compared to the far shadier operations of developed crime syndicates in the UK.

It is not illegal under Japanese law to take a gang membership, and syndicates are able to operate from public offices while running legitimate businesses as well as criminal enterprises simultaneously. 

However, Japanese authorities have steadily been working to reduce the influence of the yakuza across the nation, and police departments in six different regions of Japan were granted power last year to arrest known gang members for minor offences such as loitering and even gathering in large groups. 

Japanese authorities have also targeted the legitimate side of the yakuza’s business operations by publicly naming companies, organisations and individuals who are known to enter deals with the crime syndicate, thereby causing business partnerships to crumble and cutting the syndicate’s profits.

The legal offensive by Japanese authorities has certainly dented the yakuza’s profits and ability to operate freely, but there are fears that mounting restrictions will simply cause crime bosses to double down on their criminal operations and boost their willingness to enact violence. 

Gang membership is not a crime in Japan and members are easily identifiable by their conspicuous tattoos. Many members are missing parts of their fingers, which are cut off as punishment for transgressions

Nomura, 74, denied accusations he had masterminded the violent assaults for which he was sentenced to death. Kudo-kai is often described as Japan’s ‘most violent’ yakuza gang.

According to Japanese broadcaster NHK, there was no direct evidence that Nomura had ordered the attacks. 

However, in handing down the sentence, the judge said that the gang operated under such strict rules that it was unthinkable that attacks could have been carried out without its leader’s authorisation.

The trial revolved around attacks carried out by Kudo-kai members between 1998 and 2014. During that time, a former head of a fishing cooperative was shot and killed, and three others – including a nurse and former police officer – were injured by shooting or stabbing.

When the sentence was delivered, Nomura reportedly told the judge: ‘I asked for a fair decision… You will regret this for the rest of your life,’ in a sinister warning of retribution. 

Japan police arrest at the scene of the crime a Yakuza gangster who shot Nagasaki major and anti-nuclear activist Iccho Ito in front of main train station in Nagasaki city, Nagasaki province, 17 April 2007. Despite the blatant murder, the gang member was not sentenced to death

Defence lawyers for Nomura plan to appeal the ruling, according to Kyodo news agency. Nomura’s number two, Fumio Tanoue, fell just short of the death sentence but was jailed for life. 

The yakuza grew from the chaos of post-war Japan into multi-billion-dollar criminal organisations, involved in everything from drugs and prostitution to protection rackets and white-collar crime.

With more than 100 inmates on death row, Japan is one of few developed nations to retain the death penalty, but the sentencing of Nomura is thought to be the first time a yakuza boss has been committed to death row. 

Public support for capital punishment remains high despite international criticism, including from rights groups.  

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