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Gov't looks to revise law against organized crime to establish conspiracy count

The government has drafted a bill to establish the charge of preparing terrorist attacks and other organized crime by narrowing the conditions for constituting the conspiracy count, government sources said.

    The executive branch is considering submitting a bill to revise the Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds to establish the charge to the Diet during an extraordinary session to be convened next month.

    On three occasions in 2003, 2004 and 2005, the government of then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi submitted a bill to establish the charge of conspiracy to the Diet. However, the moves sparked concerns and criticism that ordinary citizens could be punished only for vaguely consulting with others over committing crimes. The bills ended up being scrapped after opposition parties voiced stiff opposition to the establishment of the conspiracy charge.

    The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has incorporated a clause on punishment of those involved in preparations for terrorist attacks and other organized crime in its draft revision to the Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds.

    Under the proposed clause, the charge of preparing terrorist attacks and other organized crime would apply specifically to "organized crime groups" aiming to commit crimes that carry at least four-year prison terms. The past bills that were scrapped stated that the charge of conspiracy was applicable generally to "groups."

    The government apparently assumes that "organized crime groups" refer to terrorist organizations, crime syndicates and organizations involved in cash transfer frauds. Under the government-sponsored bill, preparations for crimes -- which are committed by organized crime groups as entities and specifically planned by at least two people -- constitute "preparations for terrorist attacks and other organized crime."

    These conditions are stricter than those for charging conspiracies alone. Conspiracy is widely interpreted as an agreement between at least two people to carry out specific crimes.

    Moreover, the clause would be applicable to individuals who conspire with those involved in crimes -- for which the masterminds face at least four years in prison -- as was assumed by the past scrapped bills.

    About 600 counts of offenses would be subject to the clause. Since the counts include violations of the Road Traffic Act and the Public Offices Election Act, the range of offenses to which the clause should apply will likely spark debate.

    Under the clause, individuals who conspire with those involved in crimes -- for which the masterminds would be punished with the death penalty or life or over 10 years' imprisonment -- would face up to five years in prison. Up to two-year imprisonment would apply to those who conspire with others who mastermind crimes that carry four- to 10-year prison terms.

    Establishment of the conspiracy charge has been discussed for many years because of the necessity to step up responses to internationally organized offenses.

    The U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, aimed at helping parties develop common legislation to crack down on such offenses, was adopted at the U.N. General Assembly in 2000 and came into force in 2003.

    The Diet approved the treaty in 2003. Still, Japan has not yet officially concluded the pact because it has yet to enact domestic legislation regarding punishments of those involved in conspiracies.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government is cautious about revising the legislation.

    "Concerns have been raised in Diet sessions about such a law, so we're cautiously considering the matter," he told a news conference on Aug. 26.

    At the same time, he underscored the importance of officially concluding the treaty to combat organized crime. "We need to go ahead with development of legislation necessary to conclude the treaty," he said.

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