Gangsters, grandmothers and gold: Japan's new crime wave
nytimes.com -- Jun 15
Sometimes the perpetrators are gangsters. Sometimes they are rather less accustomed to the criminal life. In one case, the ringleader of a middle-aged, female crime ring was said to be a 66-year-old woman.

An old-fashioned crime is experiencing a resurgence in Japan: gold smuggling. The authorities say they are contending with a startling rise in the amount of gold being brought illegally into the country. The smugglers --- an array of professional criminals and enterprising amateurs --- profit by dodging import duties and taxes, in some cases worth millions of dollars. Arrests have jumped 40-fold in just a few years.

The smuggling has gained national attention because of a spate of high-profile episodes, including a brazen gold robbery by thieves dressed as police officers; the seizure of multimillion-dollar gold cargoes from fishing boats and private jets; and the foiling of the smuggling ring the police have said was organized by a 66-year-old housewife.

Crime rates in Japan are among the world's lowest and have been falling further as the population ages. But some nonviolent crimes, like shoplifting or embezzlement, have remained more common than other offenses --- say, murder or armed robbery.

Experts say gold smuggling is the type of crime that might appeal even in law-and-order Japan: It requires no violence, has no victims except state coffers and does not call for an aging person to carry a gun.

"Psychologically, it's something you can do more casually than drug smuggling," said Takahisa Urushibata, a criminologist at Osaka University of Economics and Law. "People see it as an easy way to earn extra cash, almost like a part-time job."

In small amounts, gold can be easy to smuggle. Customs officials report that people carry it into Japan in pouches sewn in their underwear and in bars taped to the bottoms of their feet.

This month, the police in central Japan arrested five women in their 50s and 60s on suspicion of hiding nearly 70 pounds of gold in their clothing on flights from South Korea, a haul worth about $1.2 million.

The woman accused of leading the group, the 66-year-old, admitted making eight such trips in the past three years, according to the police. Criminals in Japan covered the airfare and hotel bills of her and her companions and paid them $200 to $400 per pound of smuggled gold. (The women were in custody and could not be reached for comment, directly or through legal representatives.)

News source: nytimes.com
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