Society

How The Japanese Mafia Is Making Millions From The Fukushima Cleanup

Police have arrested "yakuza" mob members, who recruited people who owed them money or were mentally disabled to do cleanup work in contaminated nuclear zones.

Radioactive money for the yakuza
Philippe Mesmer

TOKYO – It has been almost two years since the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, and since then there have been multiple allegations about the role played by the Japanese mafia – the yakuza – in the reconstruction process.

On Jan. 31, Japanese police arrested a yakuza boss on suspicion of illegally sending workers into the disaster zone. According to the police, Yoshinori Arai is the head of a crime gang operating in the Yamagata prefecture – in northern Japan. His gang is affiliated with the Sumiyoshi-kai crime syndicate, the second most powerful crime syndicate in all of Japan with 12,600 members.

Arai is accused of sending day laborers to a nuclear decontamination project in the city of Date, in the Fukushima prefecture. The workers only got paid half the promised 20,000 yens ($216) per day. The rest of the money went to Arai’s crime gang.

The reconstruction of the regions devastated by the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster – and the billions of yens involved – is very appealing to the Japanese mafia.

The chance to cash in came at the right time for the yakuza, who have fallen on hard times in recent years. They have lost a huge chunk of revenue as the result of stricter anti-gang laws introduced in October 2011 and increased police crackdowns. The new laws made it illegal to do business with crime syndicates or have ties with gangs.

In Tohoku – the region devastated by the earthquake and tsunami – crime gangs are allegedly implicated in all different aspects of the reconstruction, from demolition to waste removal. The police are investigating 37 cases involving crime syndicates active in the rebuilding and cleanup effort. In May 2012, they arrested Makoto Owada, another high-ranking member of the Sumiyoshi-kai, for illegally dispatching workers to the Fukushima power plant through local front companies.

Jobs no one else wants

The close ties between the yakuza and the nuclear industry have been known for a long time. Journalist Tomohiko Suzuki wrote about it in 2011 in his book: Yakuza and Nuclear Energy: Diary of An Undercover Reporter Working at the Fukushima Plant.

He reports that yakuza have been around the Fukushima site since the nuclear disaster -- working to stem the effects of the plant’s meltdown. They “find people and send them to the site,” recruiting men who owed money to the yakuza, who were homeless, unemployed or even mentally handicapped. According to Suzuki, this system didn't start with Fukushima – the nuclear industry has always used the yakuza to recruit people for the most dangerous tasks, the jobs no one else wants.

In the first days following the nuclear disaster, Tepco, the electricity company managing the plant, who was short on manpower, asked recruiters to fetch “those who are not afraid of dying.”

In July 2011, Tepco was forced to make a public statement announcing they would be cutting ties with the yakuza. The company also decided to ask its subcontractors to sign a document stating they had no ties to the mob. But since subcontractors use front companies, this is virtually impossible to verify.

The announcement of Arai’s arrest came just as Tetsuo Nayuki, a senior official with the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), which was set up in September 2012 to “restore public trust in Japan and abroad regarding nuclear regulation,” was being sacked. On Jan. 22, Nayuki leaked a report on the nuclear sector to the Japan Atomic Power Company (JAPC). He shared a draft report about a site survey of the company’s Tsuruga nuclear plant before its public release.

The NRA was evaluating seismic risks at every Japanese nuclear plant, and found that there was an active fault under the Tsuruga plant and that the reactors would have to be decommissioned. The JAPC wanted to get their hands on the document before its public release to be able to prepare its rebuttal.

The JAPC had denied lobbying the nuclear watchdog, saying it never gave Nayuki any money.

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A tribute to the 30,000 Iranian political prisoners murdered in Iran in 1988

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Laba diena!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Afghanistan's Taliban demand to speak at the United Nations, China takes a bold ecological stand and we find out why monkeys kept their tails and humans didn't. Business magazine America Economia also looks at how Latin American countries are looking to attract a new generation of freelancers known as "digital nomads" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[*Lithuanian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Taliban ask to speak at UN: With global leaders gathered in New York for the 76th meeting of the UN General Assembly, Afghanistan's new rulers say their country's previously accredited United Nations ambassador no longer represents the country, and have demanded a new Taliban envoy speak instead. Afghanistan is scheduled to give the final intervention next Monday to the General Assembly, and a UN committee must now rule who can speak.

• Four corpses found on Belarus border with Poland: The discovery of bodies of four people on Belarus-Poland border who appear to have died from hypothermia are raising new accusations that Belarus is pushing migrants to the eastern border of the European Union, possibly in retaliation over Western sanctions following the contested reelection of the country's strongman Alexander Lukashenko. The discovery comes amid a surge of largely Afghani and Iraqi migrants attempting to enter Poland in recent weeks.

• China to stop building coal-burning power plants abroad: Under pressure to limit emissions to meet Paris climate agreement goals, China announces an end to funding future projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries through its Belt and Road initiative.

• Turkey ratifies Paris climate agreement: Following a year of wildfires and flash floods, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced at the UN that Turkey will become the last G-20 country to ratify the emissions-limiting accords. Turkey already signed the agreement in 2016, but has yet to hold a vote in parliament.

• Mass evacuations following Canary Islands volcano: More than 6,000 people have fled the Spanish archipelago as heavy flows of lava have buried hundreds of homes. Four earthquakes have also hit the Canaries since the Sunday eruption, which could also cause other explosions and the release of toxic gas.

• Rare earthquake hits Melbourne: The 5.9 magnitude quake struck near Melbourne in southern Australia, with aftershocks going as far Adelaide, Canberra and Launceston. Videos shared on social media show at least one damaged building, with power lines disrupted in Australia's second largest city. No injuries have been reported.

• The evolutionary tale of tails: Charles Darwin first discovered that humans evolved to lose this biological trait. But only now are New York scientists showing that it was a single genetic tweak that could have caused this shift, while our monkey relatives kept their backside appendages.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The roof of Barcelona" — El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world. Work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882 as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. The Barcelona-based daily reports that a press conference Tuesday confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years. Although it is currently the second tallest spire of the complex, it will become the highest point of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated "great cross."

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Latin America, the next mecca for digital nomads

Latin American countries want to cash in on the post-pandemic changes to the fundamental ways we work and live, in particular by capitalizing on a growing demand from the new wave of remote workers and "youngish" professional freelancers with money to spend, reports Natalia Vera Ramírez in business magazine America Economia.

💻🏖️ Niels Olson, Ecuador's tourism minister, is working hard to bring "digital nomads" to his country. He believes that attracting this new generation of freelancers who can work from anywhere for extended visits is a unique opportunity for all. Living in a town like Puerto López, he wrote on Twitter, the expat freelancer could "work by the sea, live with a mostly vaccinated population, in the same time zone, (enjoy) an excellent climate, and eat fresh seafood." For Ecuador, the new influx of visitors with money to spend would help boost the country's economy.

🧳 While online-based freelancers already hopped from country to country before COVID-19, the pandemic has boosted their current numbers to around 100 million worldwide. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates there could be a billion roaming, digital workers by 2050. Some European countries already issue visas for digital nomads. They include Germany, Portugal, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, but in the Americas, only four countries make the list, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Panama and Costa Rica.

💰 In August 2021, Costa Rica approved a law for remote workers and international service providers, intended to attract digital nomads and make its travel sector more competitive. The law provides legal guarantees and specific tax exemptions for remote workers choosing to make the country their place of work. It allows foreign nationals earning more than $3,000 a month to stay for up to a year in the country, with the ability to renew their visa for an additional year. If applicants are a family, the income requisite rises to $5,000.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$2.1 billion

Google announced yesterday it will spend $2.1 billion to buy a sprawling Manhattan office building, in one of the largest sales of a building in U.S. history. The tech giant plans on growing its New York workforce to more than 14,000 people.

📣 VERBATIM

It is sickening and shameful to see this kind of president give such a lie-filled speech on the international stage.

— Opposition Brazilian congresswoman Vivi Reis in response to President Jair Bolsonaro's inflammatory 12-minute speech at the UN General Assembly. The unvaccinated head of state touted untested COVID-19 cures, criticized public health measures and boasted that the South American country's environmental protections were the best in the world.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank & Bertrand Hauger

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