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The Dowa problem, organised crime, local government and private companies June 14, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Economy & Business, Finance, Japan, Society.
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There was a report in today's newspapers about a banker who was found dead in an apparent suicide, after being questioned by police in relation to an embezzlement case which has strong links to organised crime.

The issue revolves around one Kunihiko Konishi, who was, amongst other things, the head of a social welfare foundation called the Asuka-Kai.

He was also the head of the Asuka branch of Buraku Liberation League's Osaka prefectural confederation.

Konishi, who appears to have been a de facto dictator controlling the Asuka-Kai's affairs is suspected of embezzlement, but the evidence points to government officials and banks being aware of Konishi's embezzlement and turning a blind eye, or worse, aiding and abetting Konishi.

The banker who committed suicide was in charge of the Asuka-Kai account in the past. Other bankers who managed the account have also been questioned. The bank in question was the then Sanwa Bank (later UFJ Bank which is now part of MUFG). The banker, who was given a managerial post after his stint working the Asuka-Kai account (probably as a pay-off for work the bank knew was dodgy), is reported to have killed himself in protest at the bank's handling of this issue. The bank does appear to be taking the line that they were unaware and that this was just the act of a few rogue employees. Suicides of bank employees are not uncommon, but historically they rarely make the news. Even when reported, they are reported as being due to "overwork" or "depression", in an attempt to hide the real reason. I guess that when you have been conditioned for "job for life (if you are a "loyal" employee, and bonus points for doing "difficult" work)", and with little chance of decent reemployment at the kind of pay that big firm bankers are accustomed to, I can see how people might try to rationalise their actions. After all, so many people around them seem to be doing similar things, and the vast majority don't get caught. Most "problems" are sorted quietly. Unfortunately, if you happen to be "unlucky" enough to be caught up in something which makes headlines, the company shows its ruthless streak and offers you up for sacrifice. Not a very fair implicit contract, is it.    

It appears that not only was Konishi embezzling the money, he was reloaning money to organised criminal gangs. It transpires that the collateral he offered for the loans belonged to these gangs. Many of these dealings appear to have happened during the property bubble of the late 80's, and the statute of limitations probably means Konishi will get off with being charged for some nominal offenses relating to more recent embezzlement. Most of the loans made by the banks have been written off.

Osaka City officials first denied knowledge of any impropriety, then when confronted with evidence, admitted grudgingly that they were aware of irregularities.

Konishi appears to have been well known for his links to the organised crime syndicates, which is one reason government officials and bankers may have played along, so that they did not become targets of reprisals from criminal thugs. His face as the head of a group which promoted itself as promoting the welfare of the discriminated burakumin also no doubt helped his personal cause.

Especially in Western Japan, the burakumin discrimination problem is deep seated, and the government and local authorities have felt the need to assist these groups. However, rather than trying to cure the fundamental problem, it seems in this case (and probably many similar cases elsewhere) they threw money at the problem and tried to keep the figurehead happy. As long as that was achieved, the government and private businesses expected that Konishi would keep his side of the bargain and keep his minions under control (with the help of his friendly thugs, if necessary). It is basically an extortion racket, made even worse by the fact that it used the burakumin issue which in and of itself is a real and serious problem.  

There is no doubt in my mind that any form of discrimination against productive, law abiding, and loyal members of society is unacceptable. As the discriminated began to organise into a vocal group, it would seem in certain cases the leaders have exploited their position for personal gain. This is surely not isolated to burakumin related groups, it has happened the world over in relation to various minority rights movements and  also with trade unionism.  

Background on the issue can be read here: 

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20060521TDY02006.htm 

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20060601TDY02008.htm

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20060518TDY16003.htm 

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20060525TDY02006.htm 

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