THEFTS AND ROBBERIES IN JAPAN
The number of convenience store robberies in the Tokyo area rose dramatically in 2009.The most robberies of convenience stores in 2007 and 2008 occurred in Osaka Prefecture. There were 66 such robberies in 2007, compared to 65 in Aichi and 62 in Tokyo. The number of convenience store robberies fell 19.4 percent to 723 in 2010 according to the NPA.
Car navigation systems are a common targets of thieves. In 2009, 35,688 such thefts were reported to police, with two thirds of them already installed in cars. Many stolen navigation system are believed to be sold on Internet auction sites.
In 2001, there were 6,984 robberies, an increase of 9.2 percent. High-tech thieves have used miniature cameras at golf courses to shoot people opening their lockers and then used the combinations to steal valuables inside the lockers. In recent years there has been thefts of exotic animals such as ring-tailed lemurs and radiated tortoises taken from research centers.
In December 2004, thieves stopped a car carrying cash, tear gassed the driver, and made off on a motorcycle with more than $1.2 million. In May 2008, a man took $8,000 from a loan company in Osaka by threatening to open a bag with liquid hydrogen sulfide if the company failed to turn over the money.
In April 2009, two men took bags of cash, holding $2.1 million, from a guard carrying the money from a cash-transporting vehicle to an agricultural cooperative after pointing what appeared to be a gun at the guard. The robbery took place in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture. The guard was carrying a total of four bags, with $3.6 million and was robbed at a services entrance to the cooperative. The robbers wore baseball caps and sunglasses and escaped in a car.
In April, 2009., thieves stole $100,000 worth of items from a jewelry store ion Osaka after they rammed a truck through the entrance to the store at 5:25am and managed to escape even through police were in the scene three minutes after the stores alarms went off.
In December 2008, police arrested a woman called the “prawn woman” because she allegedly walked backwards when she stole valuable from bags left unattended by women when they were looking after children at parks and other places. She reportedly stole items on 80 occasions and was caught attempted to steal a wallet from bag that had been placed on a seat at a playground in Niigata.
In September 2011, a man attacked an armored cash-transportation car and shot a security guard in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, according to police. The security guard was seriously injured after being shot in both knees. The shooter fled the site with a bag from the armored car containing documents and other items. According to police the man attacked the security guard at about 9:20 a.m. when the guard was removing the bag from the van at the JA Irumano agricultural cooperative's Tanomozawa branch. The man arrived at the site on a motorbike. He was believed to be in his 40s and was wearing a white helmet, mask and dark blue windbreaker. He left a suspicious object at the site, which could be an explosive, the police said. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun , September 27, 2011]
Websites and Resources
Links in this Website: CRIME IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; THEFTS AND ROBBERIES IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JUVENILE CRIME IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; FAMOUS MURDERS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; FAMOUS MURDERS IN JAPAN INVOLVING CHILDREN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; YAKUZA AND ORGANIZED CRIME IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; YAKUZA ACTIVITIES AND VIOLENCE Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; AUM SHINROKYO CULT AND THE TOKYO SUBWAY SARIN GAS ATTACK Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SECURITY, GUNS AND POLICE IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; LEGAL SYSTEM IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; DEATH PENALTY AND PRISON IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan
Good Websites and Sources: Statistical Handbook of Japan Crime Section stat.go.jp/english/data/handbook ; 2010 Edition stat.go.jp/english/data/nenkan ; News stat.go.jp ; Nationmaster Japanese Crime Statistics nationmaster.com/country/ja-japan/cri-crime ; Murder in Japan globalpost.com ; Cultural Study of Low Crime Rate in Japan (have to pay to see) oxfordjournals.org ;
Bookmice Summary on Crime in Japan bookmice.net ; Books Tokyo Underworld by Robert Whiting (Pantheon), describes of world of street pimps, ambitious gangsters and corrupt politicians; Tabloid Tokyo volumes 1 and 2 (Kodansha International), tales of sex, crime and the bizarre.
Travel Advisories U.S. State Department Advisories Travel.State.gov British travel warnings: fco.gov.uk . Australian travel warnings: dfat.gov.au/travel ; Overseas Secuirty Advisory Council Report osac.gov/Reports ; Travel Advise Web sites: Lonely Planet Lonely Planet Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Thorn Tree
Shoplifting and Purse Snatching in Japan
Shoplifting can be a problem in Japan. Fourteen major bookstores say they lose ¥4 billion to shoplifting each year, much of it committed by minors. There were 149,892 reported cases of shoplifting in 2009.
The number of snatch-and-run thefts fell 23.5 percent to 14,559 in 2010 according to the NPA. Chiba topped the prefecture list for this crime, displacing Osaka Prefecture which had been No. 1 for 34 years. The number of purse snatches declined from 52,919 in 2002 to 19,145 in 2008 but then began rising as economic conditions worsened.
In 2009, an Osaka woman was arrested trying to steal a $12,000 pongee-fabric kimono at a department store in Ginza. She admitted that she has been stealing expensive kimonos and pawning them for several years,
In September 2007, a man was arrested after snatching a purse with almost $40,000 in yen inside using a monocycle, The man is believed to be t have been in more than 1,000 similar robberies, making him one of the most prolific robbers ever in the world. In October 2003, a shoe thief was found with 440 shoes, all of them for the left foot, in his house.
In March 2009, a 71-year-old woman who had her purse stolen got her purse back after pursing the bicycle-riding thief on her bicycle and catching him after 350meters in Ikuno Ward, Osaka. The thief, a 32-year-old unemployed man, took the purse, which contained only ¥110, from a basket on the woman’s bicycle and only made it 200 meter before the chain came off his bicycle. The man then fled on foot, leaving the purse in the basket. The woman snatched her bag and pursued the thief, finding him hiding behind the fence of a house. He was arrested by police.
Burglaries in Japan
The most common reported crime in Japan is burglary. A total of 1,373,037 burglaries were reported in 2008.
Burglaries at shops selling name brand items soared in the mid 2000s. There were 21 robberies at shops selling designer handbags in the Tokyo area in the first four months of 2003, with thieves making off with almost $1 million worth of merchandise. In one robbery thieves broke through a glass door and made off with 40 Louis Vuitton bags worth $50,000 before police could respond to burglary alarms. At another shop, Hermes items, selling for $10,000 each, were taken.
Home burglaries are also on the rise. Thieves often use small torches to crack the glass in a window or sliding glass door and make a hole so they could unlock it from the outside. In some cases thieves broke into houses and stole bankbooks and papers that had their pin number. In other cases they stole bankbooks and used false chops to steal tens of thousands of dollars from bank accounts.
Cash and other valuables that people keep in their houses make inviting targets. In December 2004, thieves broke into the house of a golf club owner, tied up the family members, and made off with $1.3 million in cash and $250,000 in watches. It was the 16th incident since 1990 in which more than $1 million was stolen. The same month five teenagers were arrested for breaking into a house in Hiroshima and taking a safe with over $1 million in it.
In February 2008, three Chinese burglars were arrested for taking money from an apartment in Tokyo. The three were linked to 500 break-ins that involved using a wire to easily open a certain kind of door. They are believed to have taken tens of millions of yen worth of money and goods.
A two-man Chinese burglary gang that were arrested said they had committed 400 burglaries in the Tokyo metropolitan area and netted $2 million. They used taxis to reach their targets and make their get away.
Lock picking crimes were reduced from around 30,000 in 2000 to 700 cases in 2007 because of widespread use of security locks and new laws that made simple possession of lock picking tools a crime. Thieves and burglars have responded by entering houses through pried open windows rather than doors.
Pachinko parlors are favorite robbery targets. In November 2006, three men, armed with knives and a stun gun robbed at a pachinko parlor in Tokyo of ¥23.3 million. In December 2005, a pair of robbers held up a manger at a pachinko parlor at knife point and made off with ¥12.2 million.
In June 2007, a car carrying ¥30 million in pachinko earnings in Yokohama was intentionally rammed by another car carrying balaclava-masked thieves who smashed the windows of the money-carrying car with baseball bats and made off with the money. The ramming car had been stolen.
In June 2008, a man involved in stealing ¥6 million from pachinko parlors shot himself dead in the head after an eight-hour stand-off with police in Saitama near police. According to police the man, Ken Kaneko, and his accomplice, armed with hand guns tied up seven employees at the pachinko parlor and took the money from a safe and took off in a car.
About an hour later, 20 kilometers from the robbery site, police stopped Kaneko for driving his car suspiciously. Kaneko took a shot at the police and drove off. About an hour and half after that the car spotted in a parking lot in a residential area. Police surrounded it. Kaneko and his accomplice fired more shots. The accomplice gave himself up about a half our later. Kaneko refused to come out and stayed in the car until he shot himself. After he shot him in the head, police rushed the car, arrested him and took him to a hospital.
Car and Vehicle Thefts in Japan
stealing a Honda Vehicle theft is a problem in Japan. Many cars that are stolen end up in Russia. Some motorcycles that are stolen end up in Taiwan. Criminal gangs have been linked to the theft of high end motorcycles such as Harley Davidsons. There are crime rings that specialize in stealing bicycles that are shipped to North Korea and cars that end up in Russia.
Between 2003 and 2005, a crime gang stole 30 Mercedes-Benz cars by getting electronic keys reissued by the German carmaker, The cars were worth around $2 million. Members of the group would write down the license plate number of the vehicle they wanted to steal. With that information they were able to obtain a vehicle inspection certificate and with that they could get the name of the owner and other information. With that information they would go to a dealership, and say they lost their keys and get new ones which they would use to steal the car. .
In the late 2000s, Toyota Hiace vans were particularly sought after by car thieves, with some car theft rings specializing in stealing them. Most were shipped overseas where the vans are valued for their reliability and durability and are widely used for commercial purposes. One gang was caught after stealing 100 Hiaces—worth more than $1 million—in an 18 month period.
In the Osaka area the theft of car navigation systems became such a problem that police asked manufacturers to modify their products so they wouldn’t work unless a password was entered. More than a 1,000 thefts of the devices was reported a month. One 21-year-old thief quoted by the Daily Yomiuri told police , “It’s easy to remove a car navigation system, even when it is embedded in the dashboard. We took the stolen systems to pawnbrokers.”
ATM and Gas Station Robberies in Japan
Thieves have set up minicameras at ATMs to record people putting in their pin numbers. The pin number are used with fake cards made with data swiped from the card’s magnetic tape. The yakuza are believed to be behind some of these activities.
In 2002, fifty-seven ATMs were broken into by thieves using heavy machinery such as backhoes. There have been so many thefts and scam involving ATMS that riot police have been deployed near them.
In Hyogo Prefecture , five men were arrested in 2009 for using a backhoe in six thefts in which they took ¥45.9 million. In one robber they broke into a bank branch at 2:15am with a backhoe and used it to remove the ATM which they broke open later to steal the cash.
Self-serve gas stations are also attractive targets for thieves. The thieves often show up before dawn or early in the morning when the number of employees on hand is small and smash the automatic payment machines with crowbars and other implements an steal money, often while the employees look on. The crimes are typically carried by three or more men in balaclavas or masks: one driving the get-away car, one threatening employees with a crowbar and one or two assaulting the machine. The first such crime was reported in 2007. As of April 2008, more than 120 such crimes have been reported, with losses totaling on the tens of millions fo yen.
In September 2009, thieves rammed a stolen car into a jewelry store at 4:00am, and broke cases in the store and made off with 85 pieces of jewelry including necklaces and rings, valued are over $100,000. When police arrived a few minutes after the robbery, the car was still running.
Sukiya Beef Bowl Restaurants Targeted by Thieves
In October 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: The National Police Agency has taken the unusual step of telling the operator of the Sukiya gyudon beef bowl chain to tighten its security measures--again--after its outlets were targeted in 90 percent of robberies on such restaurants in the first nine months of this year. The NPA has instructed operator Zensho Co. to increase staff numbers at night and take other crime-prevention steps at its 1,699 outlets nationwide, police said. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, October 14, 2011]
According to the NPA, 63 of the 71 robberies and attempted robberies of gyudon (beef bowl) outlets between January and September targeted Sukiya restaurants, with thieves getting away with about 6.6 million yen. The rival Yoshinoya gyudon chain suffered six robberies during the same period. NPA officials said prefectural police officers will visit Sukiya outlets to urge them to step up antitheft measures.
Of 68 robberies targeting gyudon chains nationwide last year, 58--85 percent--occurred at Sukiya outlets, and resulted in damage totaling 12 million yen. This trend prompted the NPA to ask Zensho to tighten its security measures last November. The NPA pointed out Sukiya outlets were often targeted because they: 1) Have only one worker on at night; 2) Keep a large amount of money on the premises; 3) Have a cash register near the door; and 4) Are in suburban areas where few people pass by at night.
Despite the police instructions, Sukiya remained an easy target. In one particularly vicious case, a worker at a Sukiya outlet in Kyoto was slashed on his leg during a robbery in March. According to the NPA, 35 of the 38 Sukiya outlets robbed between January and May had only one worker doing the night shift, and many outlets had more than 100,000 yen in their cash registers.
Messages detailing Sukiya's lax security--and suggesting the outlets are soft targets--have been posted on the Internet. Some robbers who targeted Sukiya restaurants, including a 33-year-old man who was arrested by Saitama prefectural police on Saturday on suspicion of attempted robbery, have been quoted by police as saying they considered Sukiya outlets vulnerable after learning through a mobile phone Web site that they usually assign only one staffer at night.
Zensho reported sales of 370.7 billion yen ($4.6 billion) for the business year that ended in March. Overtaking McDonald's Holdings Japan and Skylark group, Zensho had the highest sales revenues among domestic restaurant chain operators. Operators of rival beef bowl restaurant chains have adopted security measures different to Sukiya's. Yoshinoya Holdings Co., which has 1,171 Yoshinoya outlets, and Matsuya Foods Co., which has 835 Matsuya outlets, generally have two workers on duty at each outlet at night time. Yoshinoya rules stipulate large bills are not to be left in cash registers, while most Matsuya outlets have ticket-vending machines instead of cashiers.
Museum and Temple Robberies in Japan
objects similar to this
have been stolen In March 2007, a large block of gold bullion that weighed 100 kilograms and was worth $2 million was stolen from an art museum in Takayama in Gifu prefecture. The museum had little security. The four men who carried out the robbery wore ski masks and sunglasses and overpowered a 59-year-old female clerk, carring the gold downstairs from a display case and making off in a white station wagon. In June three men from Fukuoka Prefecture were arrested in connection with the robbery, The men were found with pieces of the gold block which has been cut into pieces.
Valuable Buddha statues have been stolen from temples in Japan by thieves who replace the stolen statues with fakes. In one case a rare one-meter-tall, gold-covered statue, made in the late Muromachi period (1333-1568) and only shown once every 60 years, was taken from storage room, whose lock was broken, at a temple in Shizuoka Prefecture and replaced with 60-centimeter-tall painted wooden fake.
Between 2000 and 2001 more than 40 Buddhist statues were stolen from temples along Omuru pilgrimage roue, which has 88 holy sites. During 2008 eleven relatively small Buddhist statues were stolen from temples in Kyoto Prefecture, including the principal deity at Ninnaji Temple and shigun images from Tojin Temple. In many cases the statues are easy to take—in some cases all one has to do is climb into the sacred area of the temple and snatch the statues.
In March 2009, Itsuo Abe, a vending machine repair company president, was arrested fro stealing Buddhist statues and hanging scrolls from Buddhist temples. Among the objects we took were a 17th 11-faced Juicimen Kannon statue from Kenninji Temple in Kyoto taken in January 2009 and a Fudomyoo statue take from Toji Temple in Kyoto in December 2008. Abe simple said he went into the temples and took the objects and hid them under his coat as he slipped out. He was caught using footage from a security camera at Kenninji Temple and a tip from a witness who saw a suspicious vehicle at the temple. After his arrest Abe told police, “I like Buddhist statues, so I took the statue home and have worshiped it every day.”
The statue at Kenninji temple was housed in a miniature shrine that is out of reach. Abe said he reached it by standing on a pile of cushions. He told police, “I parked my act near Kenninj, and I came across the seated statue, As I looked at it, I wanted to pray to it at home. So I piled up five or six cushions and took the statue down from the miniature shrine.” He said he concealed under his coat because “it would’ve been rude to carry the Kannon statue uncovered.” Abe set off alarms at another temple when he broke in After the temple closed but was let go after he said he just lost his job and sought out the Temple as a place to sleep.
Metal, Hat and Fruit Thieves in Japan
Thieves also target valuable agricultural and seafood products. In October 2005, 6500 apples valued at $8000 were taken from orchards in Iwate and Aomori. Thefts of high quality cherries and pears from trees in orchards in the middle of the night have also been reported. In July 2005, $90,000 worth of sea urchin was taken from a refrigerator at a fisheries cooperative.
High metal prices in the mid 2000s encouraged thieves to plunder car barriers, chains, electric cables and stainless steel grating used to cover ditches along the sides of streets and sell them as scrap metal. Large temple bells, fire bells, playground slides and metal water storage basins used by farmers were all targeted by metal thieves. Metal thefts in 2006 resulted in losses of over $20 million.
Among the items that were taken were 52 stainless steel car barriers, worth ¥4.6 mullion, stolen from parking lot entrances in Osaka; a 100-kilogram tide gate taken in Ehime Prefecture; 38 fire-lookout-tower bells valued at ¥4.1 million stolen in 12 cities and 1,027 storm grates worth ¥8.4 million taken in Ibaraki Prefecture. Some rail companies hired guards to prevent thieves from taking tracks.
It is suspected that the metal was sold to small scrap metal dealers and then was exported to China. Sometimes the thieves reprocessed the metal into sheets and bricks so it couldn’t be identified or linked to it original source. Sometimes these chores were done by the scrap dealers.
In November 2006, four men were arrested after stealing 275 metal grates worth $50,000 in Osaka. In 2007, more than 150 metal bridge nameplates were stolen from bridges in Fukushima and Tochigi prefectures. Most of the nameplates were 15 centimeters long, 30 centimeters wide and 1.5 centimeters thick and made bronze, They cost between $250 and $350 to make,
In June 2009, police arrested two men from Saga Prefecture for theft after 398 baseball caps stolen from 20 different high school teams were found in their homes.
$3 Million Ginza Watch Robbery
In January 2010, thieves made off with 194 luxury watches—worth $3 million—in robbery of the Tenshudo jewelry store in Ginza in Tokyo. The thieves made their way into the store throw a 50 centimeter by 80 centimeter hole they drilled in the building housing the store. Rolexes and other luxury brand watches were taken from the stores basement. The hole is believed to be to have been with a hydraulic lift. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun]
Security cameras showed intruders smashing glass showcases in the basement floor of jewelry and taking watches at about 4:50am on January 2nd. The men were shown crouching down and using flashlights to avoid being detected by infrared sensors.
Six Chinese—three men and three women—were arrested in Hong Kong for the crime. A Hong Kong Police officer who specializes in investigating the Chinese theft ring caught two members of the ring with watches taken from Tenshudo.
Members of the gang are thought to have been feuding. Before the arrest four men assaulted two mail men in the area, sprayed them with pepper spray and stole two bags of mail thought contain packages with watches inside addressed to the apartment of the group’s leader. Six hours later police discovered the bags. Twenty pieces of mail, most of them addressed to the ringleader, had been opened.
According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, investigative authorities in Hong Kong said four men—who likely left the group because of infighting—thought the stolen goods were contained in the mailbags, but had mistaken the delivery time. One Hong Kong paper said one of the thieves turned on his cohorts, identifying them to police, leading to the arrest of the six. Two of those arrested resembled the men caught on the security cameras.
According to Hong Kong and Tokyo police, the three men who carried out the crime arrived at Narita Airport in mid December posing as tourists. They stayed a cheap hotel used by Asians, caed Tenshudo several times and bought a hydraulic jack and other tools for the robbery which allowed them to easily break through Tenshudo’s five-centimeter-thick concrete wall. Afterwards they put watches in packages that were sent the from Japan to Hong Kong, Two days after the crime the thieves flew back to Hong Kong from Narita. Three of the men in the ring were linked to a similar heist of $600,000 worth of watches in Sendai in 2006.
Between 2004 and 2009 Chinese burglary rings are thought to have committed 117 robberies in Japan. Some are believed to have come to Japan because of crackdowns back home in Hong Kong and China and the relatively easy pickings in safe Japan, where jewelry stores often dispense with expensive security measures to save money.
Robbers Grab Record $7 Million in Japan’s Largest Cash Theft
this has nationalist overtones In May 2011 two men broke into a security company office in western Tokyo early in the morning on a Thursday and stole about ¥604 million in cash after slashing a security guard with a knife and beating him with an iron pipe to force him to divulge the combination for the vault. It was Japan's biggest-ever cash robbery eevr. Police say the robbery had the hallmarks of an inside job as the thieves took only 20 minutes to carry out the crime. The previous record was ¥542.5 million stolen from a transportation company in Tochigi Prefecture in October 2004. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 14, 2011]
According to the Metropolitan Police Department Friday, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported, “the two men entered the Tachikawa office of Nichigetsu Keibi Hosho, a security company headquartered in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, after breaking a window. After waking up a 36-year-old male security guard who was sleeping on a sofa, they bound his wrists with adhesive tape and then slashed his chest and beat him until he told them the combination for the vault. The robbers then filled 70 jute bags with the cash and escaped by car.” The robbers took only five minutes to shift the cash from a room being used as a vault to their vehicle. The guard was seriously injured. [Ibid]
The security firm was keeping a larger amount of cash than usual because more money was to be transported to post offices in the Tama area for the weekend. “About ¥590 million of the stolen cash was money Japan Post Network Co. had asked the security firm to take to post offices to be used in automated teller machines in Tokyo's Tama district. According to a senior MPD officer, the security company is asked by financial institutions to keep a large amount of money on hand on Tuesdays and Thursdays as customers tend to need cash just before or after weekends. This made early Thursday morning an ideal time to commit the robbery.” [Ibid]
“A window near the office's northern entrance was unlocked as its key had broken last autumn. The office's security system also was switched off. The two men parked their car on a road some way from the office. A surveillance camera was in operation at the security office's parking lot, something the robbers apparently knew. However, another surveillance camera caught a person wearing a thin nylon-like jumper making several trips carrying bags from the office.” [Ibid]
“The MPD believed the two men, estimated to be about 170 centimeters tall, had distinct roles in carrying out the robbery, which apparently had been planned with meticulous care. The fact that the robbers broke into the office one hour after the security guard started taking his nap suggested that they knew the schedule of the security guards. During police questioning, the security guard who was attacked said one of the robbers stood watch all the time, a police source said.” [Ibid]
“This is not the first time the security company has been robbed. In October 2003, about 150 million yen was stolen from a cash transport vehicle in a parking lot in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, and in December 2008, about 69 million yen was stolen from a cash transport car in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, while the company's security guard was collecting cash from an ATM at a nearby post office. Both cases remain unsolved.” [Ibid]
Arrest of Robbers Involved in $7 Million Robbery
In June 2011, a 31-year-old man was arrested in connection with the theft. The Metropolitan Police Department apprehended Hideaki Ueki, whose residence and occupation are unknown, on suspicion of breaking into the security company, injuring a security guard and stealing the money. His suspected accomplice Yutaka Watanabe was arrested a couple days later. Watanabe admitted to the allegations, saying, “Without a doubt. I committed the a burglary with a man, who appeared to be around 30 years old.” Both men were wanted on the same charges: burglary, inflicting injury and unlawful entry into a building. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 2, 2011]
The two contacted people with links to a crime syndicate by mobile phone before and after the robbery, according to the police. The MPD suspects the two were being instructed by a gang that masterminded the crime. According to the MPD, Ueki and Watanabe broke into the Tachikawa office of Nichigetsu Keibi Hosho through an unlocked, small window shortly after 3 a.m. on May 12. The lock on the waist-high window had been broken for at least six months.
Men believed to be the two suspects were caught on surveillance cameras near the crime site and also were seen buying adhesive tape at a convenience store in Hachioji, Tokyo, before the robbery. Investigators found Ueki at his parents' home in Hino, Tokyo, shortly after Tuesday midnight. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported that the supects drove on and off expressways to evade security cameras between the crime scene and their hideout in Ibaraki Prefecture, according to investigative sources. The two also are suspected of changing cars or license plates, as their car had different license plates every time they got on and off the expressways, the Metropolitan Police Department said. According to analysis of footage from security cameras on the expressways, the suspects got on the Chuo Expressway at the Kunitachi-Fuchu Interchange and headed toward their hideout in Ibaraki Prefecture via the Joban Expressway.
Two weeks later three more men were arrested in connection with the 600 million yen robbery. According to the Metropolitan Police Department, the three are Tetsuro Minoda, a 46-year-old company executive; Hiroyuki Kamejinaka, 40; and Ayato Ito, 25, the latter two claiming to be members of a Yamaguchigumi-linked crime syndicate. Minoda reportedly has connections with a Sumiyoshikai-linked crime syndicate. The three were apprehended on suspicion of robbery involving injury and also trespassing. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 18, 2011]
Before and after the incident, Minoda of Yoshikawa, Saitama Prefecture, and Kamejinaka of Tachikawa, Tokyo, frequently contacted Yutaka Watanabe, 41, one of the alleged perpetrators of the robbery. The MPD suspects Minoda and Kamejinaka planned the robbery. Ito, of Hodogaya Ward, Yokohama, and Minoda denied the allegations, telling investigators they had no recollection, while Kamejinaka remained silent, according to the police. The three had no record of working at the security company. [Ibid]
Only about 5 million yen of the stolen cash has been discovered, which Watanabe was carrying when he turned himself in to police. Police will continue to search for others involved in the robbery while also continuing to search for the missing money, according to the MPD. [Ibid]
Inside Man Arrested in 600-Million-Yen Robbery
In October 2011, Kyodo reported: A former security company employee was arrested, suspected of being an inside man in Japan's biggest cash robbery. Takashi Tomatsu, a 44-year-old hairdresser in Tachikawa, western Tokyo, worked nights at Nichigetsu Security Guard Ltd.'s Tachikawa office from November 2005 to June 2011. [Source: Kyodo, October 22, 2011]
Investigators with the Metropolitan Police Department said Tomatsu had told police that he had given inside information to other people. He is the 19th person arrested in connection with the robbery. Police suspect that the lock of the window used by the robbers had been broken for at least 18 months before the robbery and that Tomatsu may have told another suspect that it was broken.
They also believe Tomatsu, who was a contract employee, may have drawn a diagram of the office that the gang members allegedly had in their possession. Tomatsu's job was to collect, transport and sort money from Nichigetsu's clients, according to police. He left the company when his contract expired. Two other suspects were regulars at a hair salon where Tomatsu worked during the day, according to police
In the early hours of May 12 this year, two men broke into the Tachikawa office through a window and stole about 600 million yen ($7.8 million), of which about 360 million yen is still unaccounted for. The security guard on duty was injured by the robbers.
Pink Panther Robberies in Japan
Pink Panther robberies In March 2004, $32 million worth of jewelry was stolen from Le Supre-Diamant Couture de Maki, a jewelry store in the Ginza District of Tokyo. It was the largest robbery ever in Japan. The crime was been carried out by a crime group known as the “Pink Panthers,” made up of two men and two women, whose leader, a Serbian national named Marcos, who was arrested in Paris in May 2004.
The Pink Panther syndicate was also involved in a $1.3 million robbery in Paris in 2004 and $22 million robbery in Paris in October 2007 and a $12 million theft on Dubai in April 2007 an other robberies in Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany and Bahrain. In May 2003 the thieves stole 47 gems, including yellow diamonds, worth $43 million, from Graff’s jewelers in London jewelry store. It the largest amount ever stolen in a British robbery. Graff’s clients included Mike Tyson, the Beckhams and Naomi Campbell. The group disguised themselves with wigs and made their escape on motorcycles. The were dubbed the “Pink Panthers” because they used techniques that were similar to this used the Pink Panther movies.
The robbers involved in the Ginza heist flew to Japan from Paris and returned to Paris after the crime was committed. One of the men used a fake Croatian passport and one of the women used a fake Czech passport. To temporarily incapacitate employees at the jewelry store they used a chemical spray manufactured in France. Members of the group were seen at other jewelry stores, probably casing them out for an easy heist. They are believed to have had contacts in Japan, which helped them hide and flee the country.
The June 2007 theft of a $2 million diamond tiara and $840,000 diamond necklace from a jewelry shop in the Ginza district of Tokyo was linked to the “Pink Panther” ring. The non-Japanese thieves—one dressed in a suit and the other wearing a white mask—entered the Exelco Diamond Tokyo in Ginza and sprayed tear gas on the shops staff and then pried open two showcases and fled. They are thought to have fled by bicycle and made their way to Narita airport. Using false Czech passports, the two men left on separate flights from Narita Airport to France.
The crime is believed to have been carried out by Rifat Hadziahmetovic, the Montenegrian ring leader of the Pink Panther theft ring, and his accomplice Radovan Jelusic. Hadziahmetovic and Jelusic came to Japan using forged Czech passports in April 2007, about two months before the Ginza robbery. Footage of the robbery, which took thirty seconds to complete, shows two men, believed by Japanese police to be Jelusic and Hadziahmetovic, entering the store and spraying three female clerks with tear gas before escaping with a diamond tiara and a necklace.
The thieves opened the showcases in a matter of seconds by inserting a screwdriver through a two-millimeter opening in case and jimmying them open. The didn’t leave any fingerprints behind even though they didn’t wear gloves. Only 32 seconds elapsed between the time they entered the shop and the time they left. The use of tear gas, the small number of thieves and quickness in which the crime was carried out are all hallmarks of the Pink Panther ring. The shop targeted in 2007 was only 300 meters from the one targeted in 2004.
After the Pink Panther Tokyo Robbery
Rifat Hadziahmetovic Hadziahmetovic flew to Paris the day after the theft. He allegedly was helped by an Italian woman, a jewelry broker, who flew to Paris on the same flight as Hadziahmetovic. She is believed to be have cased the jewelry store before the robbery and sold the diamonds from the tiara using her black market connections after the diamonds were safely out of Japan.
Hadziahmetovic and Jelusic, police say, removed the diamonds from the taira, placed the platinum base in a bag and flushed the other unwanted parts down the toilet. The platinum base was given to a 41-year-old Iranian man who introduced the thieves to the Italian woman that helped them. The Iranian man was arrested on suspicion of obtaining stolen goods and has been questioned about his dealings with Hadziahmetovic.
Pink Panther Crime Group
The Pink Panther ring—which is said to have 200 to 400 members and accomplices, with 40 core members—specializes in stealing diamonds and luxury watches from high-end jewelry stores in Europe and the Middle East. The ring is suspected of being behind robberies in 170 stores in 28 countries since 1999, and making off with almost $400 million worth of merchandise. Most of the members are though to be from the nations of the former Yugoslavia, particularly Montenegro. The group is so named because one of its member, Milan Joveric, was caught with a $1 million diamond, from a heist in London, hidden in a jar of his girlfriend’s cold cream, the same hiding place used by the thief in film, The Pink Panther .
The London crime occurred on May 20, 2003. Two thieves walked into the jewelry store Graff, in London, and, in less than three minutes, made off with more than thirty million dollars’ worth of diamonds. It was the biggest jewel heist in British history. The London robbery was followed by other Pink Panther heists, in Europe and Asia; the take from these robberies approached a quarter of a billion dollars.
David Samuels wrote about the Pink Panther group in The New Yorker. Over the course of a year he spoke with seventeen detectives, in ten countries, who are tracking the Panthers. Belgian detective André Notredame told him that he believes that the core of the Panther operation consists of between twenty and thirty experienced thieves. Dozens of other facilitators in various European cities provide logistical assistance. Since 2002, Notredame says, the Panthers had robbed a hundred and fifty-two jewelry stores. [Source: David Samuels, The New Yorker, April 12, 2010]
Geneva detective Yan Glassey believes that the Panthers originated as a gang from Cetinje, Montenegro, but grew into a wider Balkan collective. Criminal gangs became dominant forces in Serbia during the Balkan conflicts of the nineties, and they were further empowered by Western sanctions which gave them a stranglehold on the markets for gasoline, cigarettes, and other staples. In Montenegro, banditry may be even more deeply entrenched than it is in Serbia. [Ibid]
According to Milutin Dacovic, a retired criminal, the higher ranks of the Panther organization include a number of Serbian ex-soldiers, but the diamond trafficking was directed mainly by criminals from Italy, Russia, Israel, and Holland. A Panther who called himself Novak told the The New Yorker there were four main Panther groups, originating from a single group of diamond thieves from Montenegro. After a robbery, the jewels were handed off to a member of the team, who then drove to a rendezvous near a highway. The diamonds would be inspected by the buyer. Novak suggested that many of the jewels were recut in Antwerp and then shipped to Israel, where they reëntered the legitimate diamond market. [Ibid]
Trying to Catch the Pink Panther Thieves
The two Panthers involved in the Ginza robbery soon became the focus of a global intelligence-gathering and surveillance operation run by the Tokyo police, who had already been embarrassed by the theft of the Comtesse de Vendome necklace from a store in the Ginza by the Panthers two years earlier.
Detectives in London, Paris, Brussels, Geneva, and Tokyo began working through Interpol and Europol to pooling information about the Panthers. In the fall of 2007, Interpol created the Pink Panther working group. One member, Dusko Poznan, was arrested in a hospital after he was hit by a car in Monaco.
“It is clear that as the amount of information shared with INTERPOL and its network of 188 member countries increases, so too is the number of Pink Panther members being located, identified and arrested,” said Jean-Michel Louboutin, Interpol’s executive director of police services, in the Interpol press release, which featured a picture of Jelusic stamped with the word “Arrested” in bright red letters. Published reports suggest that Jelusic’s arrest may be connected with information gleaned from Bojan Vuckovic, twenty-four, a low-level Panther who was arrested two weeks ago at the Serbian-Montenegrin border. [Source: David Samuels, The New Yorker, April 12, 2010]
Arrest of Rifat Hadziahmetovic
In August 2010,Rifat Hadziahmetovic, the Montenegrian ring leader of the Pink Panther theft ring, was handed over to Japanese police by Spanish authorities in Spain on charges of stealing a tiara worth ¥200 million and a necklace worth ¥84 million from the Exelco Diamond store in Ginza. Worried that members of his gang might try to free him, Hadziahmetovic was taken from Narita airport to Tsukiji Police Station in Tokyo by a bulletproof vehicle escorted by two helicopters.
The group had freed members from jail on five occasions from 2004 to 2008, including one incident in France where a group leader was freed after men believed to be Pink Panther members shot at the jail with machine guns.
Hadziahmetovic was arrested on March 14, 2009, at Larnaca airport, in Cyprus, while trying to enter that country on a forged Bulgarian passport. Later he extradited to Spain over a separate robbery in that country. In Spain he was charged with being involved in a robbery on Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands, which are part of Spain. Spanish authorities held him but were unable to establish a case against him.
Hadziahmetovic and his accomplice Radovan Jelusic have been charged with robbery resulting in bodily injury in Japan. A recording made of Hadziahmetovic’s phone calls by Japanese investigators is said to capture the Panther talking about growing up in Montenegro, where he often went barefoot because his parents couldn’t afford to buy him shoes.
In September 2011, Rifat Hadziahmetovic of the "Pink Panther" international gang of thieves was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Tokyo District Court on Wednesday over a 2007 heist in Tokyo involving nearly ¥300 million worth of jewelry. Hadziahmetovic, 43, was charged with stealing a ¥200 million diamond tiara and a necklace worth ¥84 million from the Exelco Diamond store in the Ginza district after spraying tear gas at clerks in June 2007.
Arrest of Radovan Jelusic
Radovan Jelusic was arrested in Rome in April 2011. David Samuels wrote in The New Yorker, “Stirred by a wave of international publicity and increasing pressure from fellow Interpol members, the Italian police arrested a senior operative of the Pink Panthers in Rome...The arrest of Radovan Jelusic, a thirty-nine-year-old thief from Montenegro, is significant as much for the location of the arrest as for the significance of the crimes with which the suspect is likely to be charged. Jelusic, who is wanted for a series of spectacular robberies in Japan, Cyprus, and other countries, was arrested at a coffee bar in the fashionable Trastevere district of Rome. An Interpol press release states that he was carrying a forged Croatian passport.[Source: David Samuels, The New Yorker, April 12, 2010]
According to an article in the Kyodo News service datelined November 6, 2009, Radovan Jelusic was arrested in Montenegro in September of that year on charges of obstructing justice. A Japanese request that Jelusic be extradited to stand trial for the Ginza robbery was rejected by the Montenegrin government. Sources in Montenegro suggest that Jelusic was released from custody and asked to leave the country. [Ibid]
“Jelusic’s presence in a public location in the Italian capital was not considered risky behavior by the Panthers, who have moved freely in and out of Italy without trouble prior to Tuesday’s arrest,” Samuels wrote. “Panthers and their associates are known to keep apartments in Rome and Milan, as well as in various cities and towns on the Adriatic coast, and are believed to enjoy the protection of Italian criminal syndicates which have been known to operate with the acquiescence of local Italian judges and police. Some senior European detectives credit Jelusic with being among the “brains” of the Panthers’ global crime spree, and believe that his arrest may signal an end to Italy’s role as a safe haven for Balkan jewel thieves. If so, it seems likely that the Italian police will be making more arrests of Pink Panthers—and of the Italian citizens who facilitate and profit from their crimes.
Image Sources: 1) wxorsyst blog 2) Mike Base Trek Earth 3) Onmark productions 4) JNTO, videos from YouTube, Pink Panthers from Interpol
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated April 2012