'Top gangster' arrested in Japan

By Roland Buerk
BBC News, Tokyo

image captionMany yakuza members are covered with tattoos pledging their allegiance

Police in Japan have arrested a man alleged to be second in command of Japan's biggest yakuza crime syndicate.

He is accused of extorting more than $400,000 (£250,000) from a businessman in the construction industry.

The arrest comes amid a crackdown on gangsters ahead of the expected release of the top boss of the syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi, in spring 2011.

Energised by a scandal over gangster involvement in sumo wrestling, Japan's police are cracking down on the yakuza.

Now they have arrested a man suspected of being one of the most powerful crime bosses in the country.

Kiyoshi Takayama, a pencil-moustached 63-year-old, is accused of extortion.

He is alleged to be the second in command of the Yamaguchi-gumi, one of the world's biggest crime syndicates.

The godfather of the 40,000-strong organisation, Kenichi Shinoda, is in prison but is due to be released in the spring.

For much of the post-war period the yakuza have been allowed to operate with relative impunity. Their headquarters are even listed in the phone book.

Involved in everything from illegal gambling and prostitution to the construction industry and stock market manipulation, their annual haul is estimated to be as much as $20bn.

But there has been growing concern about their activities, particularly after the Yamaguchi-gumi expanded from the area around Kobe to Tokyo, sparking turf wars with other gangs.

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