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Japanese police step up info campaign to warn Vietnamese residents of gambling dangers

A staff member of Saitama Prefectural Police's international investigation department, left, is seen speaking about the illegality of gambling to Vietnamese students at Urawa vocational school in Saitama's Urawa Ward, on Feb. 25, 2021. (Mainichi/Hayato Narisawa)

SAITAMA -- Prefectural police in the greater Tokyo area have launched an awareness campaign over the dangers of illegal gambling, as cases of betting and related offenses become increasingly prevalent in the local Vietnamese community.

    There have been a series of cases where technical interns and students from Vietnam began gambling upon introduction by friends or social media contacts, pushing them into massive debt. In some cases, they have been kidnapped or assaulted by Vietnamese criminal gangs for failing to pay their debts.

    "I wanted to win back the money I lost," a Vietnamese technical intern in his 30s told the Mainichi Shimbun. He said that the group running the gambling "lent me money immediately, so I was stuck in an endless cycle." He said he borrowed 30 million yen (about $273,300) over about eight months.

    The man fell into a Vietnamese-style betting game using playing cards. Around 30 Vietnamese nationals, including technical interns that have been reported missing, and former students, gathered in an apartment belonging to a fellow gambler. He said that there were wads of 10,000-yen bills totaling at least 10 million yen (roughly $91,100) in the room. Gambling sessions took place at different spots almost every time, and participants were notified on social media where to go. Police believe the system was designed to avoid detection by the authorities.

    The man started gambling after his Vietnamese coworker invited him to a session. His monthly salary was 125,000 yen (about $1,138), and he wanted to make more money. But all he got out of the games was rising debt. In spite of this, he managed to return this money, sometimes with assistance from his family. Later, however, he racked up another 8-million-yen debt in a single day. He began to fear for his own safety, and he went to police to seek protection.

    A leaflet created by Saitama Prefectural Police to convey the dangers of gambling in multiple languages is shown in this image provided by the force.

    Criminal gangs have also used gambling as a pretext to kidnap, confine or injure participants, and demand money from their families. The man said, "I regret my actions very much now. My family has also been put in danger. I'm just worried about my family."

    Jiho Yoshimizu, head of the Japan Vietnam Tomoiki Support Group, based in Tokyo's Minato Ward, said that it began receiving more inquiries from Vietnamese nationals involved in gambling and other crime last autumn, as conditions under the coronavirus worsened. A growing number of Vietnamese nationals became unable to return to their home country even though their residency periods had expired. These people were under temporary release from immigration detention facilities and not allowed to work, and many of them have become involved in crime.

    "On top of arranging an environment where Vietnamese nationals who can't return to their country are able to work, I'd like public institutions like the police to actively engage in efforts to educate Vietnamese people," said Yoshimizu.

    Since February, Saitama Prefectural Police have done guest lectures geared to Vietnamese nationals to convey the illegal nature and dangers of gambling. On Feb. 25, 27 people attended a lesson at a vocational school with many Vietnamese students in the city of Saitama's Urawa Ward. A police representative held up an educational leaflet written in Vietnamese and said, "Gambling is a crime in Japan. There are cases where you can get sucked into a serious incident after incurring a lot of debt, so please don't ever do such a thing."

    A 21-year-old from Vietnam who attended the lecture said, "I'd like to be careful so as to never get involved with that (gambling)." A Saitama Prefectural Police international investigation department representative said, "Whether you win or lose, there is the possibility that you'll get involved in conflict or crime. I'd like for people to be keenly aware that gambling is illegal."

    (Japanese original by Yuki Nakagawa and Hayato Narisawa, Saitama Bureau)

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