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Tokyo gov't targets 'protection fees' to gangs ahead of Olympics

Metropolitan Police Department officers hand out stickers designed to promote awareness about eliminating gang groups, in front of JR Uguisudani Station in Tokyo's downtown Taito Ward on April 23, 2019. (Mainichi/Kazuki Sakuma)

TOKYO -- The metropolitan government assembly on June 19 passed a revised ordinance imposing penalties on parties that pay "protection money" to gang groups, in a bid to oust criminal syndicates from the capital's entertainment quarters ahead of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The legislation aims to discourage businesses from paying the money that gang groups collect from restaurants, bars and adult entertainment shops in return for allowing them to operate or settling disputes with customers and others. Parties that ignore the regulations, which will take effect on Oct. 1, face up to 1 year in prison or a maximum fine of 500,000 yen.

The revision designates 29 entertainment districts in 22 wards and cities across the capital as areas subject to specially intensified measures, including Kabukicho in Shinjuku Ward, Ginza in Chuo Ward, Roppongi in Minato Ward and Kichijoji in the suburban city of Musashino.

Under the amendment, gang members are prohibited from demanding protection fees in those areas, while the operators of establishments will be banned from paying such fees while knowing that the claimants are gangsters.

While the previous anti-gang ordinance set penalties over protection money for both yakuza and establishments, there were certain steps to take before exposing violations -- advisories, announcements and orders -- and no offenders had been exposed under the ordinance.

Ordinances similar to one under the newly passed bill are already in place in at least 10 prefectures, including Hokkaido, Kyoto and Aichi. In February 2018, two gangsters and two Japanese-style bar operators were arrested in Nagoya on suspicion of violating an Aichi prefectural ordinance in connection with the payment of some 90,000 yen in protection fees to a high-ranking member of a crime syndicate.

The revision also targets the act of luring customers into shops and scouting potential workers on the streets. The move, the first of its kind in Japan, is aimed at making entertainment quarters free of illicit activities ahead of the 2020 Games, which will attract a lot of foreign visitors.

"We need to make shop operators change their awareness. The ordinance revision will provide an opportunity for them to sever their ties with gang groups," said a senior investigator at the Metropolitan Police Department, which oversees the ordinance.

(Japanese original by Kazuki Sakuma and Kunihiro Iwasaki, City News Department)

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