AUTHORITIES in Japan have recently arrested six members from the notorious Yakuza mob, accusing them of racketeering labour and exploiting homeless people to build facilities for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
The detained included 69-year-old Mitsunobu Hiroo, the leader of a gang affiliated with the Kyokuto-kai syndicate.
According to the Asahi Shimbun, police said Hiroo had admitted that the workers were dispatched to collect funds for the gang.
The gang also allegedly skimmed off a portion of the workers’ daily wages, the Asahi report said.
In the Shinjuku Ward, the gang would use the Nishi-Toyama Park as a pickup point for the workers. The park is well-known among the homeless and companies seeking day laborers at construction sites.
One 62-year-old homeless said job-seekers would make requests to a “dispatcher” who came to the park, adding the going rate was JPY10,000 yen ($88) for a day’s work.
An estimated 5,000 individuals are sleeping rough in Tokyo, although the number of homeless in the capital has fallen in recent years, the South China Morning Post reported.
The yakuza is said to be exploiting labour shortage of construction firms, preying on the cash-strapped homeless to meet the high demand for workers.
Authorities have yet to find any illegal foreign labour working on the Olympic games sites but experts said the matter cannot be ruled out.
The construction companies allegedly paid the gang a fee for providing a certain number of labourers each day. The gang also took a percentage of the workers’ wages.
Japan’s underworld has long operated in the construction sector but now police are showing signs of an impending crackdown on gang activities ahead of the games.
The government is likely to keep a close eye on the Yakuza in the run-up to the games, fearing that the gang could cause embarrassment.
“The yakuza have been endemic in the construction industry all the way back to the immediate post-war era and I don’t think it is any worse now than it was then,” Kyle Cleveland, a professor at the Tokyo campus of Temple University who specialises in social issues, was quoted as saying.
“In all those years, big corporations, construction companies and politicians have effectively enabled this to happen and it takes cases like this to reveal the chronic long-term reality of the situation.”