Gold rush: Surge in smuggling incidents in Japan

Yakuza and smuggling rings are engaging in illicit trafficking to avoid the consumption tax

Shukan Shincho June 23
Shukan Shincho June 23

In December, Toshiyuki Matsuda, a 44-year-old member of the Inagawa-kai organized crime group, and fellow gang member Hiroaki Izumi, 44, allegedly smuggled 112 kilograms of gold from Macau to Naha Airport in Okinawa Prefecture inside a private jet.

A customs inspector found the gold, which had been packed in four suitcases, in a cargo hold of the aircraft. The gold has an estimated value of 480 million yen.

Since the gold was not declared with customs officials, police suspect that Matsuda smuggled the precious metal in order to evade paying taxes of 38 million yen.

According to Shukan Shincho (June 23), cases of smuggling are on the rise as criminals seek to make transactions off the tax radar.

In days past, gold was used a key means for organized crime groups to launder money obtained through their activities. However, now it is a way for evading Japan’s consumption tax, which rose from 5 percent to 8 percent in April of 2014.

Between July 2014 and June of 2015, there were 177 incidents in which gold was smuggled into Japan, according to the Ministry of Finance. The figure is 22 times that recorded over the same period the year before.

“Going forward, the trend is not expected to reverse,” a news reporter is quoted by the magazine.

Finding an amateur smuggler

Gangsters have been key players in the illicit trafficking. In addition to the Inagawa-kai case, Yamaguchi-gumi members were nabbed for smuggling gold plates into Japan from Hong Kong via Fukuoka International Airport in December of 2014.

But carefully orchestrated rings that utilize mules are also involved, a person with knowledge of smuggling says. “They are amateurs found at investment seminars or via fake job ads in newspapers,” says the source. “They are mostly housewives, students or part-time workers.”

A former ring leader for a smuggling group explains the keys to the business. “Unlike stimulant drugs, gold doesn’t attach a sense of guilt to the amateur smuggler,” says the source. “So, you get them to a place like Hong Kong” — where the tax on the purchase of gold is zero — “and arrange for a buy. They’ll pick up between two and four bars weighing one kilogram each before leaving the country.”

Boarding a plane while holding a carry-on bag containing gold bars, valued at around 4.7 million yen each, is not a problem. However, dealing with customs officials upon arrival at the destination is where things can get interesting.

“Previously, someone looking suspicious will get pulled aside,” says the aforementioned ring leader. “So that’s why you have people visiting a restroom in the plane’s cabin and using adhesive tape to pin the gold bars to their torsos.” (Last week, four Korean women were arrested after they were found to be hiding gold bars in their underwear.)

For some female smugglers, they’ll employ an artificial skin made of silicone. “She can become a ‘pregnant woman,'” says the source. “This makes it more difficult for the customs official to do a body search.”

Risky business

The former ring leader estimates that the smuggling of a single bar into Japan could yield a profit of between 200,000 yen and 250,000 yen. “However, I think with the surge in busts that customs is getting stricter,” says the source.

Source: “Inagawa-kai kanbu made taiho sa reta ‘kin mitsuyu’ dairyuko ha konna shikumi,” Shukan Shincho (June 23, pages 46-47)

Note: Brief extracts from Japanese vernacular media in the public domain that appear here were translated and summarized under the principle of “fair use.” Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy of the translations. However, we are not responsible for the veracity of their contents. The activities of individuals described herein should not be construed as “typical” behavior of Japanese people nor reflect the intention to portray the country in a negative manner. Our sole aim is to provide examples of various types of reading matter enjoyed by Japanese.

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