DOJ Charges Crime Boss With Nuclear Materials Trafficking

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John Oyewale Contributor
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A leader within Yakuza, a Japanese transnational crime syndicate, will appear in court Thursday to face charges regarding the international trafficking of nuclear materials, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said Wednesday.

Takeshi Ebisawa, a 60-year-old Japanese citizen, was accused of “conspiring with a network of associates to traffic nuclear materials from Burma to other countries,” according to the statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York. He faces two charges regarding the alleged cross-border trafficking of nuclear materials and a separate count of “[c]onspiracy to acquire, transfer, and possess surface-to-air missiles.” Ebisawa was previously charged with narcotics importation and firearms offenses brought against him and a co-defendant, 61-year-old Thai citizen Somphop Singhasiri, in April 2022. Ebisawa also faces one count of money laundering.

Ebisawa allegedly informed two individuals who, unbeknownst to him, were a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) undercover agent and a DEA confidential source, that he wanted to sell “a large quantity of nuclear materials” on behalf of “the leader of an ethnic insurgent group in Burma” on separate occasions in early 2020, according to the court documents. Ebisawa allegedly desired to “have a big commission” from the sale and furnished the undercover agent with photographs of rocks with a Geiger counter on them and “lab analyses indicating the presence of uranium and thorium,” the court documents alleged.

The undercover agent then allegedly provided an individual posing as an Iranian general and “the decision maker” on the materials allegedly for sale. Ebisawa allegedly expressed understanding and hope in response to the undercover agent’s remark that “[t]hey don’t need it for energy, Iranian government need it for nuclear weapons,” the court documents alleged. Ebisawa allegedly intended to sell the materials to the “general” in order to fund Ebisawa’s allegedly intended purchase of weapons, including rockets, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades for the leader of the insurgent group in Myanmar, according to the documents. The insurgent allegedly “had been mining uranium in [the insurgent’s] territory in Burma.”

Ebisawa and other alleged co-conspirators eventually held a series of meetings with the agents and presented the nuclear materials to them in Phuket, Thailand, after which the alleged co-conspirators transferred the materials to a Bangkok office, the court documents further alleged.

“With the assistance of Thai authorities, the Nuclear Samples were seized and subsequently transferred to the custody of U.S. law enforcement authorities,” the statement noted. Laboratory analyses reportedly demonstrated that the materials contained uranium, thorium, and weapons-grade plutonium. (RELATED: US Charges Four Chinese Nationals With Exporting Sensitive American Electronic Equipment To Iran’s Military)

“It is impossible to overstate the seriousness of the conduct alleged in today’s Indictment,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said, according to the statement, while also thanking “the career prosecutors of my Office and our law enforcement partners for their unwavering commitment to protecting our national security.”

Both Ebisawa and Singhasiri were “ordered detained” and face multiple lengthy sentences, including life imprisonment, if convicted, the statement noted.