Top police officials said on background that they believe a senior DPJ official promised to keep criminal conspiracy laws off the books in exchange for votes and financial support from the crime group.
This makes sense. Japan does not have an equivalent of the U.S. RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act, which was instrumental in helping U.S. authorities destroy the Italian-American Mafia in the 1970s and 1980s. Japan has most of the elements in place to create the equivalent of such an act and signed the U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime in December 2000 -- but so far the country has failed to fully implement it.
That's largely because the so-called "clean DPJ" has staunchly opposed legislation for a criminal conspiracy act, which would make it easier to prosecute yakuza bosses in criminal courts for the actions of their soldiers and seize their assets. According to the Sankei Shimbun newspaper, the DPJ refused to even discuss the legislation when it was a minority party in 2006.
In the meantime, Japan's law enforcement community has been taking matters into its own hands. In an almost covert rebellion, the National Police Agency (NPA) has quietly worked to circumvent the national government by getting local ordinances in place around the country criminalizing paying off the yakuza or doing business with them.
One can see why the yakuza would back the DPJ, but what were the politicians getting out of it? Well, the yakuza are quite well funded, for one thing. Robert Feldman, an economist for Morgan Stanley Japan, once called the Yamaguchi-gumi Japan's "largest private-equity group." Jeff Kingston at Temple University has speculated in his book Contemporary Japan that if the crime group were listed on the stock exchange, it would rival Toyota.
The yakuza, which specialize in extortion and blackmail in their own business dealings, are also useful in finding dirt on political opponents and squelching criticism of their benefactors. And as one-third of the yakuza are Korean-Japanese, they are also useful in securing the support of ethnic Korean groups in Japan and getting political funding from the lucrative Korean-dominated pachinko (arcade-style gambling games) industry. They are also able to mobilize local community leaders and associates to "get out the vote."
However, following the Nagasaki mayor's assassination, the growing influence of the "yakuza money" became a public concern. On Sept. 29, 2009, Takaharu Ando, the head of the NPA, ordered all police in Japan to focus on dismantling the ruling faction of the Yamaguchi-gumi, the Kodo-kai, stating, "The Yamaguchi-gumi Kodo-kai are threatening police officers, are increasingly uncooperative, and expanding their economic activities into all realms of society." It was the first time the NPA had specifically targeted a single faction of the Yamaguchi-gumi since the so-called "war on the yakuza" was officially launched back in 1965. The police have begun to crack down intensely, after September 2009, on yakuza ties in all aspects of Japanese society, even in the almost-sacred world of sumo. They are also making renewed efforts to turn popular opinion against the yakuza -- who are still viewed as Robin Hood-like folk heroes by much of the population.