Japanese mafia boss charged by US with conspiring to traffic nuclear materials

Accused Yakuza leader faces charges for trying to sell Myanmar-sourced nuclear materials

Maroosha Muzaffar
Thursday 22 February 2024 04:54 GMT
FILE: Secret locations of US nuclear weapons in Europe accidentally leaked

US prosecutors have charged a 60-year-old alleged member of the Japanese Yakuza mafia with conspiring to traffic nuclear materials.

Takeshi Ebisawa was charged with allegedly attempting to sell uranium and plutonium intended for Iran to build a nuclear bomb.

Mr Ebisawa, along with Thai co-defendant Somphop Singhasiri, 61, had previously faced weapons and drug charges in April 2022.

“The defendant stands accused of conspiring to sell weapons-grade nuclear material and lethal narcotics from Burma (Myanmar), and to purchase military weaponry on behalf of an armed insurgent group,” assistant attorney general Matthew Olsen of the US Justice Department’s National Security Division said in a statement.

Currently held in a Brooklyn jail, Mr Ebisawa is considered a senior figure in the Yakuza with operations extending through Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, and the US.

Mr Ebisawa and his “confederates showed samples of nuclear materials in Thailand” to an undercover agent from the US Drug Enforcement Agency, the US Department of Justice said in a statement.

The 60-year-old Japanese mafia boss reportedly also sent pictures “depicting rocky substances with Geiger counters measuring radiation”, according to the indictment, as well as pages of what Mr Ebisawa said were lab analyses “indicating the presence of the radioactive elements thorium and uranium”.

The US Drug Enforcement Agency agent was reportedly posing as a trafficker with connections to an Iranian general.

These samples, originating from Myanmar, were seized by Thai authorities and confirmed by a US laboratory to contain uranium and weapons-grade plutonium.

Mr Ebisawa is also accused of attempting to procure large quantities of military-grade weapons for a rebel group in Myanmar, including surface-to-air missiles and various firearms.

“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,” Mr Olden said on Wednesday in a statement.

Charges against Mr Ebisawa include conspiracy to commit international trafficking of nuclear materials, narcotics importation conspiracy, conspiracy to acquire, transfer, and possess anti-aircraft missiles, and money laundering.

Both Mr Ebisawa and Mr Singhasiri face life imprisonment if convicted. Their arraignment is scheduled in a New York federal courtroom on Thursday.

US attorney Damian Williams said in a statement: “It is impossible to overstate the seriousness of the conduct alleged in today’s Indictment. As alleged, Takeshi Ebisawa brazenly trafficked material containing uranium and weapons-grade plutonium from Burma to other countries. He allegedly did so while believing that the material was going to be used in the development of a nuclear weapons program, and the weapons-grade plutonium he trafficked, if produced in sufficient quantities, could have been used for that purpose.”

He continued: “Even as he allegedly attempted to sell nuclear materials, Ebisawa also negotiated for the purchase of deadly weapons, including surface-to-air missiles.”

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