A high-ranking Yakuza boss and three affiliates were arrested in Manhattan, New York on Tuesday after a three-year investigation that spanned the globe.
The four men have been charged with international narcotics and arms trafficking offenses stemming from a scheme to trade large quantities of heroin and methamphetamine for military-grade weapons.
Takeshi Ebisawa, a 57-year-old Yakuza boss, was enjoying dinner at Morton’s Steak House when the culmination of a three-year Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigation led to his arrest.
Ebisawa, along with his co-conspirators, face life in prison stemming from two counts of narcotics importation conspiracy, conspiracy to possess firearms, including machine guns and destructive devices, conspiracy to acquire, transfer, and possess SAMs, conspiracy to possess firearms, including machine guns and destructive devices, and money laundering.
The DEA, through an informant, set up a series of meetings and deals with Ebisawa beginning in 2019. Ebisawa and another Yakuza boss named “Sampo” in Thailand had ambitions to supply the United Wa State Army in Myanmar and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka with military-grade weapons, with the Wa State willing to pay for their arms with heroin and methamphetamine, resulting in an exchange of goods for arms reminiscent of the Contra Wars of the 1980s.
In February of 2021, another DEA informant, along with two undercover agents from the Denmark National Police, would eventually show Ebisawa an assortment of military-grade weapons in a Copenhagen warehouse.
From there, Ebisawa would work to finalize deals with his buyers. He eventually brokered additional deals with the Shan State Army in Myanmar and the Karen National Union (KNU) for $40 million worth of weapons.
The deal would see 500 kilograms of methamphetamine and 500 kilograms of heroin sent to New York City in exchange for the weapons.
“We allege Mr. Ebisawa and his co-conspirators brokered deals with an undercover DEA agent to buy heavy-duty weaponry and sell large quantities of illegal drugs. The drugs were destined for New York streets, and the weapons shipments were meant for factions in unstable nations. Members of this international crime syndicate can no longer put lives in danger and will face justice for their illicit actions,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.
The groups the Yakuza were attempting to supply weapons with are insurgent groups, guerrilla forces, and semi-autonomous military parties.
The Yakuza is an international crime syndicate that originated in Japan. According to the Department of Justice, the organization, which abides by the samurai code of “blood, honor, and obedience,” controls Japan’s gambling, prostitution, drug, loan sharking, gun smuggling, and extortion rackets. Their influence extends into Japanese construction, entertainment, and politics.
The syndicate has permeated into the United States, with a presence in Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and New York City.