Japanese Mafia Accused of Trafficking Nuclear Materials

March 2024

U.S. prosecutors have charged an alleged member of the Japanese mafia with trafficking nuclear materials.

Takeshi Ebisawa, charged by the U.S. Justice Department with trafficking nuclear materials, sent photos of substances next to Geiger counters that measured radiation levels, prosecutors say. (U.S. Justice Department)The superseding indictment against Takeshi Ebisawa of Japan and co-defendant Somphop Singhasiri of Thailand on charges of “conspiring with a network of associates to traffic nuclear materials from Burma to other countries” was made public Feb. 21 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Ebisawa and his conspirators allegedly attempted to traffic nuclear materials from Myanmar between early 2020 and February 2022. In the course of the operation, they showed samples of nuclear materials to an undercover agent from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, who was posing as a narcotics and weapons trafficker. Ebisawa thought he was selling nuclear materials to an Iranian general for use in a nuclear weapons program and aimed to purchase military-grade weapons “on behalf of an ethnic insurgent group” in Myanmar, according to the indictment.

The press release reported that Thai authorities assisted U.S. law enforcement investigators in transferring the nuclear samples to the United States and “a U.S. nuclear forensic laboratory later analyzed the samples and confirmed that the samples contain uranium and weapons-grade plutonium.”

“In particular, the laboratory determined that the isotope composition of the plutonium found in the nuclear samples is weapons-grade, meaning that the plutonium, if produced in sufficient quantities, would be suitable for use in a nuclear weapon,” the release added.

In April 2022, Ebisawa, Singhasiri, and one other Thai national were arrested, indicted, and charged with trafficking in drugs and weapons including surface-to-air missiles. Ebisawa is detained in New York awaiting trial. The new charges are an addition to the existing ones.

Although the Justice Department believes Ebisawa is “a leader within Japanese Yakuza, transnational organized crime syndicate,” Japanese police told Yomiuri Shimbun on July 27, 2022, that there was no confirmed information that Ebisawa was a leader or had a connection to Japanese domestic organized crime.

“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 U.S. national security and international stability,” Matthew G. Olsen, U.S. assistant attorney general for national security, said in the press release.

There was no specific information given regarding how the defendants may have acquired or produced nuclear materials.—SHIZUKA KURAMITSU