U.S. Treasury Sanctions Yakuza

The U.S. Treasury says it will impose sanctions on the biggest of the Japanese gangster families.

The U.S. Treasury Department indicated this week that it will impose sanctions on senior members of the Yamaguchi-gumi crime family, which is the largest and most powerful center of the Japanese yakuza.

The Yamaguchi family is well known for its illicit involvement in a wide array of criminal activities, ranging from drug trafficking and prostitution to money laundering.

U.S. Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen announced that the move “casts a spotlight on key members of criminal organizations that have engaged in a wide range of serious crimes across the globe.” Cohen also confirmed that the U.S. will maintain its international effort “to target those who deal in violence, narcotics, money laundering, and the exploitation of women and children.”

The new sanctions build on existing measures that the U.S. Treasury already has in place targeting the Japanese yakuza. Last year, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order to disrupt the activities of large transnational criminal organizations.

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This week’s move expands the scope of these efforts through the imposition of personal sanctions on Kenichi Shinoda, the godfather of the Yamaguchi-gumi and his deputy, Kiyoshi Takayama. The sanctions will serve to freeze any assets Shinoda and Takayama may have in the United States and also serve to prohibit U.S. citizens from conducting business with the Yamaguchi family.

The timing of the U.S. Treasury’s clampdown has more to do with procedure than anything else. The extended sanctions were inevitable after Obama signed the executive order on international crime last year.

The significance of the recent sanctions appears to be negligible as the Yamaguchi family has little presence in the United States, aside from some drug running activities in Hawaii. However, it will be interesting to see if the new penalties bolster U.S. efforts to get its Asian allies on board in combatting transnational crime in the same way that it convinced them to target international terrorism post-September 11.