Japanese mob leader arrested for alleged murder

TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese police on Thursday arrested the leader of a particularly brutal yakuza organised crime syndicate for allegedly gunning down a man in public, a police spokesman said.

Satoru Nomura, 67, the top leader of Kudokai - acknowledged as one of the most dangerous yakuza crime syndicates in Japan - was taken into custody over the 1998 fatal shooting of a 70-year-old man, a police spokesman said.

"He is suspected of firing a gun at point-black range (to kill the victim)... and of shooting a weapon in public," the spokesman said.

Possession and use of firearms in Japan is heavily regulated.

Television footage showed dozens of riot police wearing helmets and bulletproof vests milling around Nomura's vast residence in Kitakyushu in western Japan.

The victim was Kunihiro Kajiwara, head of the local fishermen's co-operative. Media said his killing may have been in retaliation for refusing to give favourable treatment to the yakuza group over public works in a local port.

Four members of Kudokai were arrested in 2002 over the incident, of whom two were convicted, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported.

The yakuza occupy a grey area in Japan's usually law-abiding society. Like the Italian mafia and Chinese triads, they engage in activities ranging from gambling, drugs and prostitution to loan sharking, protection rackets and white-collar crime.

The gangs, which themselves are not illegal, have historically been tolerated by the authorities, although recently efforts have been made to choke off their sources of funding.

Kudokai is one of the largest yakuza crime syndicates in the Kyushu region of western Japan, and is acknowledged as a particularly dangerous yakuza group by local governments because of its apparent willingness to target civilians, local reports said.

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