Yakuza Leader Accused of Nuclear Trafficking Plot

A Japanese crime boss allegedly tried to sell weapons-grade nuclear material from Myanmar to Iran, according to US prosecutors.

The Undercover Operation

Takeshi Ebisawa, 60, is the leader of a Japanese crime syndicate with operations in several Asian countries and the US, according to the US Department of Justice. He is charged with conspiracy to commit international trafficking of nuclear materials, narcotics importation conspiracy, conspiracy to acquire, transfer and possess anti-aircraft missiles and money laundering.

Ebisawa and his associates were arrested in April 2022 in Manhattan during a sting operation by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). An undercover DEA agent posed as a drugs and weapons trafficker with links to an Iranian general, and met with Ebisawa and his co-defendants in Thailand and Sri Lanka.

During the meetings, Ebisawa and his confederates showed samples of nuclear materials that had been transported from Myanmar to Thailand, believing that they would be transferred to Iran to build a nuclear bomb. The samples were seized by Thai authorities and sent to a US laboratory, where they were confirmed to contain uranium and weapons-grade plutonium.

The Myanmar Connection

Ebisawa allegedly obtained the nuclear materials from an unnamed leader of an ethnic insurgent group in Myanmar, who had been mining uranium in the country. Ebisawa proposed that the leader sell uranium through him in order to fund a weapons purchase from the Iranian general.

Yakuza Leader Accused

Ebisawa also sought to acquire large quantities of military-grade weapons on behalf of the rebel group, including surface-to-air missiles, assault and sniper rifles, machine guns, rockets and tactical gear. He sent photographs and videos of the weapons to the undercover agent, and arranged for their delivery.

The Implications

The indictment filed in a Manhattan court on Wednesday alleges that Ebisawa and his co-conspirators “threatened US national security and international stability” by trafficking in nuclear materials and lethal narcotics. The indictment also accuses them of laundering millions of dollars through shell companies and bank accounts.

“It is chilling to imagine the consequences had these efforts succeeded, and the justice department will hold accountable those who traffic in these materials and threaten US national security and international stability,” said assistant attorney general Matthew G Olden in a statement.

Ebisawa and his co-defendant, Somphop Singhasiri, a 61-year-old Thai national, will be arraigned in a New York federal courtroom on Thursday. They face life imprisonment if convicted of the charges.

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