‘You’ll regret it’: Yakuza gang leader threatens judge in Japan with death sentence, East Asia News & Top Stories

TOKYO – Satoru Nomura was called “God” and “Emperor” by his subordinates, who waited for him 24 hours a day in a palace in Fukuoka.

But the 74-year-old leader of Japan’s most violent yakuza gang, often seen in chic bespoke suits and driven in a Mercedes-Benz, will now have to trade in his luxurious surroundings for a prison cell while awaiting a possible execution.

Nomura was sentenced to death Tuesday, August 24 for the murder of a civilian and attempted murder of three others between 1998 and 2014. His number 2, Fumio Tanoue, 65, was sentenced to life behind bars.

“You will regret it for the rest of your life,” said Nomura, who had been dialed throughout the trial, presiding judge Ben Adachi after hearing his verdict and sentence. “I asked for a fair judgment, but it is not fair at all. Where is the proof?

Tanoue, meanwhile, called the judge a “horrible person”.

Local police do not take the threat lightly and have stepped up protection for the judge, prosecutors and witnesses given the yakuza’s penchant for revenge.

“When stripped of their armor, union leaders reveal their true selves: cunning, devious and depraved individuals who seize dominance and use murder as a tool to eliminate all who oppose them. on a quest to acquire what makes them feel whole, ”criminologist Enzo Yaksic told the Straits Times.

The gangster duo run the Kudo-kai, the only organized crime syndicate in all of Japan to be labeled a “dangerous designated criminal group” for its brutality.

The gang, based in the port city of Kitakyushu in southwestern Fukuoka Prefecture, has been accused of terrorizing ordinary people for decades and is believed to have been behind a series of public assaults and extortion. for “protection money”.

Nomura and Tanoue have appealed what they call a “ridiculous” verdict. The process could take years, but unless he can overturn the verdict, Nomura could possibly be heading for the hangman’s noose.

Penchant for violence

Nomura was born in 1946, the youngest of six children to a wealthy farming family.

As a teenager, he spent his wealth on gambling and soon fell into delinquency. He was thrown into a juvenile home for a series of crimes, including car theft.

Nomura did not graduate from high school and, in his twenties, was co-opted into the gang by a senior member of a group affiliated with Kudo-kai.

His wealth has funded the gang in crimes such as real estate fraud and illegal gambling dens, with which he reaped huge profits to the tune of an average of 30 million yen (S $ 368,000) per night.

He gradually took the helm of the organization which, at the height of its influence in 2008, had around 1,210 members. This plunged to 430 members last year.

The first of four cases related to Nomura and Tanoue took place in February 1998, when a 70-year-old leader of a fishing cooperative was shot in public after refusing to do business with Nomura.

It wouldn’t be over. Judge Adachi noted how hard a grudge must have simmered when Kudo-kai struck again in March 2014, the victim this time a seemingly random dentist who was stabbed in a parking lot.

But he was the grandson of the late fisherman. The family of his fiancée were so shaken by the attack that the wedding was called off. The judge said it was likely an attempt to intimidate the family into submitting.

These cases tighten the books of two other assaults. In 2012, a retired policeman who had probed Kudo-kai was shot in the leg, while in 2013 a nurse at a cosmetic surgery clinic was stabbed after Nomura was unhappy with his attitude and of the result of his operation.

The four incidents constitute the charges against Nomura and Tanoue, but these are not all of them. A series of other attacks have been linked to the Kudo-kai, most notably in 2003 when a hand grenade was thrown at a nightclub in Kitakyushu, injuring 12.

Restaurants that refuse to auction Kudo-kai have been the victims of arson. And employees of two construction companies were targeted between 2008 and 2011.

Mr. Yaksic observed that the leaders of criminal syndicates are often “satisfied with the total submission of their victims and subordinates”, and will stop at nothing to remove obstacles to their immediate goals.

The direct perpetrators of these attacks have all been arrested and punished. The gunman behind the 1998 murder has been jailed for life.

But Nomura and Tanoue have gotten away with it so far. They were first arrested in 2014, but were out on bail until Tuesday’s verdict.

Unprecedented verdict

Law enforcement decided that was enough in 2014, when police launched Operation Summit in an attempt to bring the gang to their knees by “chopping off their heads.”

Tuesday’s verdict was the culmination of a trial that began in October 2019 and included 62 hearings and testimony from 91 people, including former gang members and police.

Legal experts have described the case as a landmark decision for many reasons, saying the judgment will have an impact on future organized crime investigations.

Notably, there was no direct evidence linking Nomura and Tanoue to the crimes.

They were not at the scene, but the verdict relied heavily on a concept called “employer responsibility” as it is inferred from the clear and hierarchical chain of command within the gang.

Judge Adachi said, in what was the first death sentence handed down to a practicing union boss in Japan, that it made sense that the underlings committed the crimes because of the “strong organizational structure in which the orders of superiors must be followed ”.

Additionally, the four victims were only bound by Nomura’s personal grudges. The judge saw no doubt that Nomura, as the leader, would be aware of the crimes planned in advance.

Additionally, while the death penalty can be inflicted on convicted murderers in Japan, it is not given lightly and is generally reserved for serial killers.

But the judge noted the blatant nature of Nomura’s crimes as he agreed the death penalty was warranted.

“There can be no mitigating circumstances for the motives and circumstances of the organization’s attack on ordinary citizens,” the judge said. “Criminal liability is so serious that the choice of capital punishment is inevitable.”

Kyushu University law professor Koji Tabuchi told NHK: “The verdict that does not exonerate top management for a crime committed by their subordinates is significant. It seems that the growing awareness of citizens and the desire to clean up society might have influenced the court’s decision. “

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