SAO PAULO, March 9 -- Brazilian police said Wednesday they have arrested one of the leaders of the Japanese criminal organization Yakuza while he was apparently attempting to set up an international cocaine smuggling network.
Police in Sao Paulo said Hitoshi Tanabe, 32, admitted to being a member of the outlawed group known as Yamaguchi-gumi, the main faction of the Yakuza organization.
He is wanted in Japan on charges related to drug trafficking and smuggling of illegal immigrants.
Tanabe, who bears the mark of a Yakuza self-inflicted punishment -- the little finger on his left hand has been amputated -- told police he was illegally in Brazil under a false name.
Police said federal investigations suggested Tanabe was trying to set up an international cocaine smuggling network when he was arrested in the city of Londrina, in Parana state.
According to the probe, Tanabe and his collaborators would offer Japanese descendants in Brazil jobs in Japan, later using them to ship cocaine to Japanese cities.
Through an interpreter, Tanabe told police he was attempting to set up a soccer school for descendants hoping to play in the Japanese league, adding he would only give explanations to Japanese authorities.
Several women hired by Tanabe -- who was living in a massive mansion protected by guards -- returned to Brazil and told authorities they had been exploited by members of Japanese prostitution organizations.
Federal police in Brazil also said they had evidence that at least three Japanese mafia chiefs had visited Tanabe's residence in January and had made contact with local businessmen.