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21 Feb, 2024 22:47

Yakuza boss tried to sell nuclear materials to Iran – US DOJ

A Japanese national sought to smuggle uranium and plutonium from Myanmar, the investigators said
Yakuza boss tried to sell nuclear materials to Iran – US DOJ

US federal prosecutors on Wednesday unsealed an indictment against Takeshi Ebisawa, alleging he was a leader of a Japanese organized crime syndicate who offered to sell weapons-grade nuclear materials to Iran.

Ebisawa, 60, was already charged with drug and weapons trafficking by the US, in April 2022. He is expected to face an American judge on Thursday, alongside his alleged co-conspirator, 61-year-old Somphop Singhasiri.

According to prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, Ebisawa was a “leader within the Yakuza transnational organized crime syndicate” and contacted a person he believed to be an Iranian general in early 2020, with an offer to sell him nuclear weapons components. In return, he sought to buy weapons for an “ethnic insurgent group” in Myanmar.

The Iranian general was actually a US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) undercover agent, however. According to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram, Ebisawa offered to sell him “uranium and weapons-grade plutonium fully expecting that Iran would use it for nuclear weapons.”

During a video conference in February 2022, one of Ebisawa’s co-conspirators said they had over two tons of Thorium-232 and more than 100 kilograms of “yellowcake” uranium and that they could produce as much as five tons of nuclear materials in Myanmar.

About a week later, Ebisawa and two others met with the DEA agent and showed him “two plastic containers, each holding a powdery yellow substance… described as ‘yellowcake’,” the indictment said. Prosecutors showed photos labeled “nuclear samples,” taken by the DEA agent. 

Thai authorities seized the samples and sent them to the US for analysis, which determined that “both samples contain detectable quantities of uranium, thorium and plutonium,” the latter of which was weapons-grade, the US Department of Justice said. 

If convicted, Ebisawa faces up to 30 years behind bars for nuclear trafficking and conspiracy charges, but life in prison for conspiracy to traffic narcotics and “conspiracy to possess firearms, including machine guns and destructive devices.”

The DEA’s offices in Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Denmark, and India have also been involved in investigating the case, along with the DOJ’s Office of International Affairs and the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section. The US has thanked Indonesia, Japan and Thailand for their cooperation with the prosecution.

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