News @ AsiaOne

Stable rented gang-related man's building for 20 yrs

The Japan Sumo Association's independent special investigation commission started Wednesday. -The Yomiuri Shimbun/ANN

Thu, Jul 22, 2010
The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network

Sumo stablemaster Matsugane has used an Osaka building rented from a gangster-related real estate agency president for 20 years as lodgings for his wrestlers, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The Japan Sumo Association's independent special investigation commission started Wednesday looking into the revelations that have given sumo's reputation another black eye following a recent gambling scandal and exposure of gang links.

The president has close ties with Yamaguchi-gumi, the nation's largest crime syndicate, and was designated by police as "having ties with a gangster organization," according to police sources. The president's name has been withheld.

Matsugane told The Yomiuri Shimbun he would not use the building from next year, and admitted he had taken the matter "too lightly." However, he also described the president as his "major supporter."

Although Matsugane, former ozeki Wakashimazu, said he had rented the building from the president, he refused to divulge how much the rent was.

According to police sources, the president had especially close ties with Masaru Takumi, the late leader of Takumi-gumi and No. 2 in the Yamaguchi-gumi hierarchy. Takumi was shot dead in 1997.

In 2008, Tokyo police arrested the president over land sharking and conducting negotiations to evict tenants from a building despite not being qualified as a lawyer. He played a Buddhist sutra tape at full blare in the building and repeatedly harassed the tenants. He was found guilty of violating the Lawyers Law but given a suspended sentence.

The case was reported heavily by newspapers and TV, and his friendly association with Yamaguchi-gumi made headlines.

Matsugane told The Yomiuri Shimbun he had seen the reports, but did not feel compelled to cut his ties with the president--and even met him after he was released on bail.

"He didn't come across as being someone like that [with ties to a crime syndicate]. Looking back, I regret some of my actions. I won't use the building again," Matsugane said.

A Matsugane stable signboard sits outside the first-floor entrance of the building in Higashi-Sumiyoshi Ward, Osaka, that belongs to a company in a corporate group operated by the real estate firm.

The five-story building with total floor space of about 1,800 square meters has a training area on the first floor, a dining room on the second floor and apartment rooms from the third to fifth floors. The wrestlers usually stay in the dining and apartment rooms. The first and second floors are kept closed except during the spring sumo tournament, which is held in Osaka.

The building was constructed in 1989 by a real estate company run by the president. The following year, the president had the the building renovated as a lodging for a sumo stable when Matsugane established his own stable. Matsugane bought the building in 2002, but sold it to a company in the president's corporate group in 2007.

The president has not responded to Yomiuri Shimbun requests for comments.

The JSA has declared it would cut all ties with crime syndicates after being rocked by the gambling scandal and a string of other unseemly incidents.

The association asked Matsugane, who was in Nagoya for the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament, to return to Tokyo to be questioned about the building.

The association rules prohibit association with "antisocial forces," which include not only members of crime syndicates defined under the Antigang Law but also people with close connections to them.

The Matsugane stable in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, has 12 wrestlers. A native of Tanegashima island of Kagoshima Prefecture, Matsugane won the makuuchi division tournament twice. Nicknamed "black panther of the southern sea," he was an ozeki for 28 basho. He is married to former pop singer Mizue Takada.

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