Japan police raid splinter yakuza crime group

Police officers raiding the headquarters of the yakuza crime syndicate, the Yamaken-gumi, in Kobe, Hyogo prefecture, in western Japan on Sept 9, 2015.
Police officers raiding the headquarters of the yakuza crime syndicate, the Yamaken-gumi, in Kobe, Hyogo prefecture, in western Japan on Sept 9, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese police raided the offices of a recently formed splinter group of the country's biggest yakuza crime syndicate on Wednesday (Sept 9), following fears the rift will spark bloody inter-gang violence.

Authorities conducted the raid in the western city of Kobe after allegations that members of the Yamaken-gumi illegally obtained credit cards and pin numbers from the elderly by disguising themselves as police, Jiji Press news agency said.

But police also wanted to collect more information about the group which was officially formed at the weekend, it added.

Authorities confirmed the raid, but would not discuss details with AFP.

Leaders of 13 factions kicked out of the Yamaguchi-gumi syndicate - Japan's largest mobster group which boasts 23,000 members and associates - held their first formal meeting on Saturday in Kobe, local media said.

The head of the Yamaken-gumi, which has about 2,000 members, was chosen to lead the spin-off group, according to the top-selling Yomiuri newspaper.

The new gangster group is thought to have around 3,000 members in all, the paper added.

Police, which held an emergency meeting last month involving officers from around the country, have warned that the split could set off turf wars and violence between Japan's organised crime groups.

Like the Italian Mafia and Chinese triads, the yakuza engage in everything from gambling, drugs and prostitution to loan sharking, protection rackets and white-collar crime.

But unlike their foreign counterparts, they are not illegal and each of the designated groups have their own headquarters.

Periodic crackdowns and police efforts to choke off Yamaguchi-gumi's sources of funding have gained momentum, while a poor public image and Japan's flaccid economy have made life difficult for the gangsters and made membership less attractive for potential recruits, experts say.