US Sanctions Yakuza Boss Living in Cambodia

The U.S. Treasury has frozen the assets of former Japanese yakuza boss and longtime Cambodia resident Tadamasa Goto in an effort to suppress the criminal network’s global dealings. A senior Cambodian police official, meanwhile, said the government would attempt to track him down.

Mr. Goto, 73, founded the Goto-gumi—a faction of the powerful Yamaguchi-gumi crime syndicate—in 1985, but was expelled in 2008 amid a series of scandals. He then relocated to Cambodia and in 2010 released a tell-all memoir that implicated leading Japanese politicians in illegal yakuza activities.

In 2013, Mr. Goto received the Cambodian title of “oknha,” an honorific generally reserved for businessmen with close ties to the ruling CPP.

In a statement on Wednesday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it had frozen Mr. Goto’s U.S.-held assets, as well as his assets in the control of American citizens. “U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with him,” it added.

“Tadamasa Goto possesses deep ties to the Yakuza and has been instrumental to its criminal operations around the world,” OFAC Acting Director John Smith said in the statement. “Today’s action denies Goto access to the U.S. financial system and demonstrates our resolve to aggressively combat transnational criminal organizations and their supporters.”

Mr. Goto is the 14th yakuza figure to be hit with OFAC sanctions since U.S. President Barack Obama added the criminal syndicate to the U.S. list of transnational criminal organizations in 2011, according to the statement. It added that U.S authorities believe Mr. Goto —a Cambodian citizen—has continued to be active in the yakuza “by laundering their funds between Japan and Cambodia.”

The OFAC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Goto’s whereabouts in Cambodia, and his activities since relocating, remain unclear.

Following a high-profile split in the Yamaguchi-gumi in August, Tokyo-based crime reporter Jake Adelstein postulated in a Daily Beast article that Mr. Goto, “who has exiled himself to Cambodia, may also seek a return to power.”

In an email on Thursday, Mr. Adelstein confirmed that Mr. Goto’s was still very much involved in the yakuza.

“Goto is believed to have funded the rebel faction that broke away from the Yamaguchi-gumi this August 27th. As a supporter of the Kobe Yamaguchi [faction]…he is playing an active role in Japan’s underworld,” he said.

Mr. Adelstein also expounded on the factors that might have prompted the OFAC’s sanctions.

“I can only speculate that this is motivated by an understanding that the splinter group of the Yamaguchi-gumi is rising in power and must be checked and to remind all parties that the US is carefully monitoring the old and new Yamaguchi-Gumi,” he said.

“It is also a message to the Cambodian government about their ‘guest.’”

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said on Thursday that he was only aware of the U.S. government’s decision to sanction Mr. Goto after reading media reports, but that the ministry would now attempt to locate him, knowing now that he is a notorious crime boss.

“Even though our authorities do not have detailed information to give you now, we are working on that,” General Sopheak said. “I think we will discover where he is living.”

Officials at the Japanese Embassy declined to comment on Thursday.

(Additional reporting by Peter Ford)

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