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Dormant nonprofit group in Kyushu taken over by gang affiliates

Copies of Fukuoka Prefectural Police documents, which were obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun, point out that a nonprofit group came under the control of an organized crime group and call on the prefectural governor to take appropriate measures. (Image partially modified)

TOKYO -- An incorporated nonprofit organization in Fukuoka Prefecture in western Japan was taken over by affiliates of an organized crime group after the organization became inactive, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

The organization was established in 2002 with the aim of engaging in activities to protect human rights, but its representative director was replaced by a person associated with an organized crime group and the number of its directors swelled more than tenfold, with many gang affiliates sent into the group.

The takeover was orchestrated by a senior member of a criminal syndicate, according to Fukuoka Prefectural Police documents obtained by the Mainichi through a freedom of information request.

According to the founder of the nonprofit group, who is in his 40s, he left the group unattended after finding it "burdensome." Wondering what to do with the entity, he consulted with a male acquaintance in around 2009. The acquaintance told the founder, "Let's work on environmental issues." The founder complied, and handed over a seal and documents related to the nonprofit group.

The acquaintance told the founder that it was necessary to submit the documents to the prefectural government -- which was responsible for supervising the group at the time -- in order to transform the nonprofit group from one dedicated to human rights into one focusing on environmental issues, and the founder believed this explanation.

However, things turned out quite differently from what the founder had expected. In September 2009, the position of representative director of the nonprofit group was taken away from the founder and given to a gang associate, and the number of the organization's directors was boosted from the original four to 44 in October that year. By June 2010, the number of directors had soared to 50. Those familiar with a police investigation said most of them were gang affiliates.

Furthermore, the nonprofit group's address was relocated from a municipality in central Fukuoka Prefecture to a location in the city of Fukuoka linked to the new representative director. The name of the nonprofit group was also changed.

The founder found out about this and argued that people with no affiliation with the group should not be serving as directors, but the situation remained unchanged.

It remains unclear why the criminal gang took over the nonprofit group and what the gang did with the group after the takeover. However, it is known that it donated some 300,000 yen to a welfare facility over a roughly four-month period from November 2009, and the new representative director was awarded a letter of gratitude from an employee of the Fukuoka Municipal Government.

"They probably were attempting to do another job while making others feel secure under the guise of the nonprofit group," the founder surmised.

A person linked to the police investigation into the case believes that the gang members tried to abuse the status of the nonprofit group, saying, "It is their modus operandi to make others believe them by using titles."

The new representative director and several other directors were eventually arrested in 2011 on suspicion of attempted coercion after pressing a construction company to place an order with a specific contractor. Fukuoka Prefectural Police, which made the arrests, subsequently notified the prefectural government of the relationship between the nonprofit group and a criminal syndicate. The nonprofit group was eventually disbanded.

The representative director who replaced the founder told the Mainichi, "We never used the nonprofit group as a cover. I don't want to say anything as the group has been dissolved."

The issue of dormant nonprofit organizations being abused for crimes such as fraud after local bodies failed to properly supervise them has emerged as a problem in society. A group of suprapartisan lawmakers began discussions on the issue in November.

In Yamaguchi Prefecture in western Japan, the head of a nonprofit organization was arrested on suspicion of teaming up with a gang boss to engage in extortion totaling 1 million yen. In Tokyo, a director of a nonprofit group was arrested in 2012 for allegedly joining hands with a former gang leader to obtain approximately 4.3 million yen through fraud.

(Japanese original by Taiji Mukohata and Ryuji Tanaka, Special Reports Group)

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