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Police raid yakuza headquarters in Kobe, Japan in September.
Police raid yakuza headquarters in Kobe, Japan in September. AFP

Yakuza oknha’s assets seized

A senior Japanese underworld figure residing in Cambodia, where he was granted oknha status by the government in 2013, had his assets in the United States frozen yesterday by the US Treasury Department for allegedly laundering the proceeds of crime using a network of front companies.

Tadamasa Goto, 73, held numerous leadership positions in the largest Yakuza crime group, the Yamaguchi-gumi, and founded an affiliate group, the Goto-gumi, before he was expelled in 2008 and moved to Cambodia, the US Treasury said in a statement.

At the height of his power, he is said to have controlled more than 1,000 mobsters and affiliates, opened 100 front companies and had access to assets worth more than $1 billion.

“Tadamasa Goto possesses deep ties to the Yakuza and has been instrumental to its criminal operations around the world,” said John E Smith, acting director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

While head of the Goto-gumi, he was instrumental in the establishment of a network of front companies that laundered the Yamaguchi-gumi’s money, according to the statement.

“Despite his retirement from mob life, Yakuza figure Tadamasa Goto reportedly still associates with numerous gang-tainted companies that he utilises to facilitate his legitimate and illicit business activities,” the Treasury Department said. “He continues to support the Yamaguchi-gumi and remnants of his semi-defunct Goto-gumi by laundering their funds between Japan and Cambodia.”

Goto has also become a Buddhist priest, is a bestselling author and was made an oknha – an honorific title bestowed on tycoons who make significant contributions to Cambodia’s development.

He is listed under an alias as the chairman of the Sokdom Investment Group, headquartered in Canadia Tower. Since moving to Cambodia, he has cultivated a reputation for philanthropy, donating $100,000 to charity in 2010. He is also listed as chairman of G-Rise Japan, registered to a residential building on Chroy Changvar.

In 2011, he was photographed donating tens of thousands of dollars to the Bayon Foundation, headed by Hun Sen’s daughter, Hun Mana, and has donated significant amounts of money to the Cambodian Red Cross, led by Hun Sen’s wife, Bun Rany.

Naoaki Kamoshida, counsellor of the Embassy of Japan, declined to comment on the US sanctions and Goto’s activities in the Kingdom.

But a former Sokdom Investment Group accountant, who asked to remain anonymous, said the firm employed only five people when he worked there in 2014 and the staff did not know the nature of the owner’s business dealings.

He added that while the employees always received their salaries on time, it was unclear how the group made money.

“Many unknown Japanese used to come and go all the time,” the source said. “I did not see Goto often . . . but he only seemed to do charity work. The Cambodian staff knew nothing about the company.

“I was never told where the money came from.”

Additional reporting by Taing Vida

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