Takeshi Ebisawa, 57, has been charged with attempting to buy weapons, including rocket launchers, from an undercover DEA agent. Photo courtesy of Justice Department
April 8 (UPI) -- U.S. authorities have arrested a leader of a Japanese transitional crime syndicate on charges of trafficking drugs into the United States and buying weapons including surface-to-air missiles for ethnic militant groups in Myanmar.
Federal prosecutors accused Takeshi Ebisawa, 57, of being the leader within the Yakuza crime syndicate and of having brokered a deal with a Drug Enforcement Agent posing as a narcotics and weapons trafficker to arrange large-scale transactions.
According to the indictment, Ebisawa conspired with co-conspirators to broker the sale of U.S.-made surface-to-air missiles and other weaponry for the Shan State Army, one of the largest ethnic insurgent groups in Myanmar, and the Karen National Union, which operates in eastern Myanmar.
Ebisawa "understood the weapons to have been manufactured in the United States and taken from United States military bases in Afghanistan," the indictment states, adding he also sought to purchase a grocery list of weaponry, including 5,000 AK-47 rifles, M60 machine guns, thousands of rockets of various sizes and other high-level weaponry.
As part of the deal, Ebisawa was to accept as partial payment large quantities of heroin and methamphetamine for distribution in the United States, it said.
"The drugs were destined for New York streets and the weapons shipments were meant for factions in unstable nations," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. "Members of this international crime syndicate can no longer put lives in danger and will face justice for their illicit actions."
Ebisawa was arrested in Manhattan on Monday along with two of his conspirators while a third conspirator was arrested in the city the next day.
The charges follow an investigation launched in 2019 into Ebisawa's alleged narcotics and weapons activities, resulting in the accused Yakuza leader being charged with narcotics importation, narcotics importation conspiracy, money laundering and conspiracy to possess firearms, including machine guns and destructive devices as well as conspiracy to acquire, transfer and possess surface-to-air missiles.
He faces life imprisonment for each charge aside from money laundering for which he could receive a maximum sentence of 20 years' imprisonment.
His co-conspirators also face life imprisonment if convicted.
"Ebisawa and his associates intended to distribute hundreds of kilograms of methamphetamine and heroin in the United States, using deadly weapons to enable their criminal activities, at a time when nearly 300 Americans lose their lives to drug overdose every day," DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said.