TOKYO - A woman has sued the head of Japan's largest organised crime group for the return of protection money and damages in the first case of its kind in the country.
Protection money refers to the sums that eating and drinking establishments are obliged to pay the yakuza, or gangsters, in return for being able to operate their businesses.
The former bar owner wants Kenichi Shinoda, 71, chief of the Yamaguchi-gumi, to pay her back 17.35 million yen (S$219,000) in all. The woman's name has not been made public for her safety. The sum includes monthly payments of 30,000 yen to 100,000 yen that she was forced to pay the local Kodokai yakuza for 12 years in Nagoya. She has also sued the Kodokai chief.
Nagoya is within the "territory" staked out by the Kodokai, which comes under the umbrella of the Yamaguchi-gumi.
In 2008, when the woman refused to pay off the Kodokai, she was allegedly told: "If you say that, your place will be burnt down."
Her lawyers told reporters that the suit against Shinoda was made possible by a 2008 law revision that holds the heads of organised crime groups responsible for acts perpetrated by their members which caused damage to life or property.
According to the National Police Agency, 11 cases have been brought against organised crime groups since the 2008 legal revision, most of them seeking damages resulting from gangland fights.
This is the first time, however, that someone is suing for the return of protection money.