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Japanese banks put squeeze on gangsters

Ben McLannahan
Koichi Kamoshida - Getty Images

Japanese gangsters are poised for a credit crunch after the country's top banking lobby declared it was fed up with yakuza members defaulting on car and small-business loans and would work with police to cut them off.

The move comes amid a scandal engulfing Mizuho, Japan's second-biggest financial group by assets, which said last month that it had supplied gang members with loans via Orient Corp, a consumer-finance affiliate.

(Read more: Currency market probe widens as Hong Kong investigates banks)

Takeshi Kunibe, chairman of the Japanese Bankers Association, on Thursday told reporters that the group would team up with the National Police Agency to share information on crime syndicates, so that gangsters seeking funds from about 200 domestic and foreign banks are cut off at the source.

After the scandal emerged, Japan's market watchdog, the Financial Services Agency, ordered Mizuho to improve its control and compliance functions, declaring them "seriously" flawed. The lending to "antisocial forces" went on for more than two years after it was first detected, the FSA said. Mizuho said that transactions totaled 200 million yen ($2 million), mostly for car loans.

Will the mafia-linked scandal hurt Mizuho?

Authorities and banks in Japan have struggled for years with the issue of how to deal with yakuza members, who have a habit of making one or two installments to avoid prosecution for non-payment, then withholding the rest.

In 2009, a bank set up by Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara to support small to medium-sized businesses collapsed, after a chunk of its loan portfolio found its way to the mob.

In 2010, the national police announced they were "doubling" efforts to clamp down on the yakuza, noting that gangsters were increasingly turning to businesses such as construction, waste disposal and securities markets to supplement their income. A year later, the police rolled out a law requiring all loan applicants to sign a declaration that they were unaffiliated to the yakuza.

(Read more: Lavish nights at Club Godfather opened door to Japan pension fund bribery case)

Earlier this year, the Japan Securities Dealers Association, which represents about 500 brokers and intermediaries, began joint-screening prospective clients with a police database of tens of thousands of yakuza-affiliated individuals.

Thursday's move by the JBA could put Japan's banks on a similar footing. The Mizuho scandal was "very regrettable", Mr Kunibe told reporters. "The banking industry as a whole is trying to break connections with antisocial forces. It is very important to restore trust."

More from The Financial Times:

Mizuho told to cease 'antisocial' lending
Mizuho's Yasuhiro Sato quits government panel amid scandal
High hopes for private banking in Japan

The squeeze on lending to organised crime groups could enjoy some success, said Jake Adelstein, a Tokyo-based writer and long-time yakuza watcher, whose life is set to be dramatized in a biopic starring British actor Daniel Radcliffe. But he warned that loans may simply be channeled to so-called "associate members", who do not show up in checks.

"If you have managed to keep a distance, or avoided having your picture in official magazines, you will be under the radar," he said.