Two Israelis have been arrested in Japan on suspicion of smuggling gold worth US$17 million into the country from Hong Kong.
Reuben Rosen, a 58-year-old Israeli living in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, and David Cohen, 55, of Setagaya Ward, are accused of hiding gold ingots in consignments of vehicle parts flown to Narita International Airport.
Japanese authorities found 220kg of gold concealed in components for car suspension systems that arrived at the airport in November 2017. The gold had a value of ¥1.9 billion (US$17 million or HK$136 million) and the bust is thought to be the largest of its kind in Japan.
Customs officials told the Asahi newspaper that the men were suspected of evading ¥73.9 million in taxes that would have been levied on the gold had it been declared.
The arrests come amid warnings that Japan’s notorious “yakuza” gangs are increasingly employing foreigners with legitimate business operations to smuggle gold into the country.
The Japanese government increased the national consumption tax from 5 per cent to 8 per cent in 2014, making gold significantly more expensive than in other markets – such as Hong Kong – where it is not subject to tax. This has given rise to a number of cases in which people have attempted to smuggle gold into Japan, with some involving fishing boats transferring boxes of gold at sea and female tourists from South Korea arriving in Japan with small ingots sewn into their underwear.
Police arrested the two Israelis after watching them for months. The pair are thought to have smuggled up to 4 tonnes of gold into Japan in at least 50 consignments between March and November 2017. Authorities believe that Cohen and Rosen, who is an executive at a company that imports precious metals, were assisted by at least one person in Hong Kong.
The pair were detained for questioning last year, but were only formally arrested on January 23.
Japanese officials confiscated a record 6.2 tonnes of gold in 2017, and that figure is expected to rise when the figures for 2018 are released.
Jake Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan and an authority on the nation’s underworld groups, said cases of gold smuggling were often linked to yakuza gangs.
“Japanese authorities are increasingly aware of efforts to smuggle gold into the country and they are working very hard to stop that happening – from new detection equipment at airports to signs that very clearly state that all gold must be declared to customs,” he said.
“And given the police crackdown on their usual criminal activities, the yakuza have in recent years found smuggling to be a lucrative business,” he added. “It is being claimed that because they are being watched so closely, yakuza groups are now approaching legitimate businessmen and asking them to smuggle gold.
“They’re effectively looking to use middlemen who do not appear to be suspicious and are at a distance from the yakuza.”
This article Japan arrests Israelis found with US$17 million of gold from Hong Kong first appeared on South China Morning Post