Dear yakuza, ex-convicts, & deadbeats. You’re welcome at Japan’s nuclear power plants. Just let us know, okay?
UPDATE: May 22nd 2012
The Fukushima Police Department Organized Crime Control Division arrested a senior executive of the Sumiyoshi-kai (住吉会) crime group for illegally dispatching workers to the reconstruction at the TEPCO run Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant. According to reports by Sankei Shinbun and other sources, the Sumiyoshi-kai boss dispatched men, including yakuza members to a construction subcontractor in Tochigi Prefecture, and these men were sent into the nuclear plant area where they allegedly participated in containment work for the damaged facilities. The charges pertain to labor dispatches from May to the end of July last year. The labor dispatch laws forbid dispatching workers to construction sites. This is the first time a yakuza boss was arrested in relation to nuclear power plant reconstruction work. Japan’s nuclear industry has long been fraught with yakuza connections which we first wrote about in June of 2011 for The Atlantic Wire . TEPCO is not the only nuclear power plant operator in Japan to get in trouble for using yakuza supplied labor. KEPCO (Kansai Electric Power Company) also had workers illegally supplied by a Kudo-kai front company working at their Ooi Nuclear Power Plant. A Fukuoka Police investigation in January uncovered the problem. The Kudo-kai is an extremely violent yakuza group based in Kyushu, and like other southern Japan gangs they are known for their fondness of pineapples.
TEPCO is due to be effectively nationalized by the Japanese government. The firm’s legacy of cronyism, incompetence, cover-ups, and organized crime connections were a large part of the decision to remove TEPCO from private hands. Hopefully, a change in command will result in a change in safety, compliance, and working conditions at the nuclear power plants they have operated.
originally posted on February 18th, 2012. updated on May 3rd, 2012
On February 10th, an expert panel of Japan’s Nuclear Energy Commission submitted a report urging the government to make it mandatory that workers and contractors involved with nuclear facilities have background checks conducted before hiring them. The panel indicated that it could be problematic to have debtors, convicted criminals, organized crime members, and other possibly anti-social elements working with nuclear energy. The report didn’t suggest that these individual be banned from the sites or handling radioactive materials but that background checks should be conducted before hiring these anti-social elements. We guess this is so that no one is surprised when these unsavory elements steal dangerous materials and sell them to terrorists. In the United States and Europe, background checks on nuclear power plant workers, including Homer Simpson, are mandated by law.
The panel suggested that not only should the people operating the nuclear power plants be subject to background checks, but even the subcontracted workers as well. The panel reportedly took into account the poor management of labor by Tokyo Electric Power Company after the nuclear meltdowns began on March 11th, 2011.
In fact, TEPCO’s history of malfeasance and the nuclear industries unsavory connections to organized crime is one reason the firm is on the verge of meltdown.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the monolithic corporation that controls all electric power in Greater Tokyo, and runs the Fukushima Daichii nuclear plant that experienced a triple meltdown following the March 11 earthquake, is on the brink of nationalization according to Japanese government sources. The official reason is that the firm may not be able to handle the massive compensation payments it owes to victims of the meltdown without going bankrupt. Unofficially, the firm has such long-standing ties to anti-social forces, including the yakuza—that some members of the Diet, Japan’s national legislature, feel the firm is beyond salvation and needs to be taken over and cleaned up. A Japanese Senator with the Liberal Democratic Party stated on background, “TEPCO’s involvement with anti-social forces and their inability to filter them out of the work-place is a national security issue. It is one reason that increasingly in the Diet we are talking de facto nationalization of the company. Nuclear energy shouldn’t be in the hands of the yakuza. They’re gamblers and an intelligent person doesn’t want them to have atomic dice to play with.”
In June we reported that yakuza were working at the Fukushima nuclear power plant as cleanup crews and manual labor, but the post-meltdown yakuza ties were only the tip of the iceberg. This month, a new book was published, Yakuza and The Nuclear Industry: Diary of An Undercover Reporter Working at the Fukushima Plant (ヤクザと原発-福島第一潜入記-鈴木-智彦) in which a former yakuza fan magazine editor Tomohiko Suzuki reports on the nuclear business-industrial-political and media complex in Japan known as the “nuclear mafia” and Japan’s actual mafia: the yakuza. The book is already generating controversy and renewed examination of Japan’s “dark empire” and its ties to the underworld. It presents more solid pieces of evidence that Japan’s nuclear industry is a black hole of criminal malfeasance, incompetence, and corruption.
It is not that the industry ties to anti-social forces were previously unknown. Engineers who worked for the firm noted the practice dated of employing yakuza members at nuclear plants dates back to the 1990s. Police sources also recognize that yakuza having been supplying labor to the area for decades. In the Japanese underworld, the nuclear industry is the last refuge for those who have nowhere to go. One yakuza explains it as folk wisdom, “Otoko wa Genpatsu, Onna was Seifuzoku･男は原発、女は性風俗”–, in other words, “When a man is has to survive doing something, it’s the nuclear industry; for a woman, it’s the sex industry.”
The Fukushima plant is located in the turf of the Sumiyoshi-kai, which is the second largest yakuza group in Japan with roughly 12,000 members; it has a well-known office in Tokyo’s Ginza District and operates under the banner Hama Enterprise. One mid-level executive in the organization even defends the role of his members in the Fukushima disaster. “The accident isn’t our fault,” he said. “It’s TEPCO’s fault. We’ve always been a necessary evil in the work process. In fact, if some of our men hadn’t stayed to fight the meltdown, the situation would have been much worse. TEPCO employees and the Nuclear Industry Safety Agency inspectors mostly fled; we stood our ground.”
However, while the symbiotic relationship between TEPCO and the yakuza has existed for decades, the relationship is officially “unacceptable.” The controversy became so great after the accident thatTEPCO pledged on July 19 to try to keep yakuza members from participating in the reconstruction of the power plant and related projects. They have been working with the Japanese National Police Agency (JNPA) to accomplish this but sources inside that agency are dubious as to whether there have been any real results. TEPCO officials met with the National Police Agency and 23 subcontractors in July and created a conference group on organized crimes issues according to government sources and they have met several times since. TEPCO explained at the time, “we want to people to widely know our exclusionary stance towards organized crime.”
According to TEPCO and police sources, since the reconstruction project has picked up speed, the number of workers has dramatically increased to several thousand. The JNPA has directed TEPCO from as early as June, to keep the yakuza out—although many of the subcontractors of the subcontractors are known yakuza front companies. Over 140 workers have been found to have used fake names when getting jobs doing reconstruction work and are presently unaccounted for. In reporting for Yakuza and the Nuclear Industry Tomohiko Suzuki was able to get into the reactor as a cleanup worker under false pretenses partly by using organized crime connections. According to Suzuki, three of the fabled “Fukushima Fifty” who stayed behind during the most dangerous days of high-level radiation leaks were local yakuza bosses and soldiers. He does not specify which groups they belonged to.
Even before the meltdown, it was very common for TEPCO to use temporary staffing firms that that would ultimately outsource work to organized crime front companies such as M-Kogyo in Fukuoka Prefecture and Yokohama which is backed by the Kudo-kai (工藤会). Organized crime groups from Kyushu are bringing workers as well. Many of the workers are homeless people, debtors to yakuza loan sharks, or former yakuza who have been expelled from their group.
In fact, in May, TEPCO’s Public Relations Department, when asked by this reporter, if TEPCO’s contracts with subcontractors have what are now standard “organized crime exclusionary clauses” (暴力団排除条項), a spokesperson replied, “We don’t have them standardized into our contracts. We don’t check or demand that our subcontractors have them in their contracts. We are considering doing so in the future.”
TEPCO has not responded to recent requests for clarification on any changes. or whether they have fully implemented the Japanese government issued guidelines for corporations who wish to avoid doing business with organized crime. TEPCO also refused to name the companies they use for outsourcing labor, background security checks, and general security at the nuclear power plants, “because to do so would be in non-compliance with personal privacy information protection laws.”
At the conferences with the police, TEPCO was supposed to share information with the police, learn the proper methods of dealing with organized crime shakedowns, and study how to do the paperwork to require the subcontractors to exclude organized crime from their businesses. However, TEPCO will probably not be held responsible for the second or third tier firms to which the work is further subcontracted. A senior National Police Agency officer, speaking on grounds of anonymity said, “I doubt these meetings with TEPCO have produced any great results. TEPCO has a history of doing business with the yakuza that is far deeper than just using their labor. Under the new laws that went into effect on October 1st, providing capital or profits to anti-social forces becomes a crime. The TMPD (Tokyo Metro Police Department) may have to issue TEPCO a warning. After the warning, there could be arrests.”
The same source noted that a TEPCO employee was arrested for insurance fraud along with a Sumiyoshi-kai member in May of this year but there was no evidence that TEPCO itself or any other TEPCO employees were involved in the crime. It only indicated that at least one TEPCO employee had organized crime connections. In January of 2003, it was reported that TEPCO had been making pay offs to the Sumiyoshi-kai for over twenty years via leasing plants and buying green tea from them. TEPCO also allegedly paid an Yamaguchi-gumi associate and former member, Takeuchi Yoichi, several thousand dollars to stop writing about safety problems at the Fukushima nuclear reactor in the 1990s. As Isao Mori reports in the recently published book Dirty Money (泥のカネ), after Mizutani Construction was named a sub-contractor on TEPCO’s Fukushima nuclear reactor waste disposal project, it paid Takeuchi’s front company “consulting fees” of around ¥120 million (roughly $1.5 million). The same firm also allegedly paid over a million dollars in under the table political donations to Ichiro Ozawa, former “kingpin” of Japan’s ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan. (Ozawa is currently on trial for violations of thepolitical funds control law.) Mizutani Construction executives have admitted in court that it was standard practice to pay off local yakuza groups and politicians to obtain construction contracts, including those in the nuclear industry.
One National Police official responsible for the Fukushima District said Takeuchi and his involvement with TEPCO were well known among law enforcement. “I know the name very well. There are credible reasons to believe that he shook down TEPCO in the past and he has certainly been the beneficiary of contracts related to Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant construction. Whether TEPCO was victimized by him or the relationship was more symbiotic, I can’t say.”
Police and underworld sources also allege that a Matsuba-kai related front company is handling waste disposal at TEPCO plants and that TEPCO executives as recently as this summer were going on golfing jaunts with Matsuba-kai members. The Matsuba-kai is one of the ten largest yakuza groups in Japan with a strong presence in Tokyo but not a major powerhouse.
The Inagawa-kai, the third largest organized crime group in Japan, with offices across from the Tokyo Ritz Carlton has also been involved in the reconstruction efforts. Most of the yakuza involvement is in procuring workers to do the jobs of laying pipes and cleaning up debris while being exposed to high levels of radiation. The yakuza bring the laborers there but do not labor there. However, heavy constructions and other work is being done by yakuza front companies or firms with strong yakuza ties.
When asked what were the major differences between the yakuza and TEPCO the same Senator paused for a minute. “The primary difference between TEPCO and the yakuza is they have different corporate logos.” He explained, “They both are essentially criminal organizations that place profits above the safety and welfare of the residents where they operate; they both exploit their workers. On the other hand, the yakuza may care more about what happens where they operate because many of them live there. For Tokyo Electric Power Company, Fukushima is just the equivalent of a parking lot.”
UPDATE: At the end of April, TEPCO was effectively nationalized by the Japanese government.
Note: Parts of this article were originally published on The Atlantic Wire.