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US agents fooled a yakuza boss into giving them weapons-grade plutonium he thought would be sold to Iran: court docs

US agents fooled a yakuza boss into giving them weapons-grade plutonium he thought would be sold to Iran: court docs
  • US officials say they arrested a Japanese crime boss trying to sell nuclear fuel.

  • Court docs describe a secret plan to fool him into delivering uranium and plutonium to the DEA.

  • The documents say Takeshi Ebisawa thought the fuel would go to an Iranian nuclear-weapons program.

US agents say they tricked a Japanese crime lord into handing over nuclear fuel to them in an audacious sting operation.

The claim was made in court documents unsealed Wednesday that described the effort to catch Takeshi Ebisawa.

In a press release, US prosecutors described Ebisawa as a leading figure among Japanese gangsters, also known as yakuza.

They said the Drug Enforcement Administration fooled Ebisawa into believing he was selling them a shipment of plutonium and uranium to help Iran build nuclear weapons.

He was arrested in 2022, according to legal records reviewed by Business Insider, and as of Thursday, was being held in federal custody in Brooklyn.

Ebisawa was first charged with trafficking weapons and drugs, but on Wednesday, a superseding indictment included the nuclear-trafficking allegation.

Prosecutors say in the indictment against Ebisawa that the 60-year-old acquired uranium and weapons-grade plutonium in Myanmar, which is in the midst of a civil war.

After years of discussion, he delivered it to an undercover DEA agent in neighboring Thailand who was posing as a weapons trafficker, the documents say.

Prosecutors cited calls and text messages over the course of two years, which they say showed Ebisawa trying to sell the nuclear fuel.

He appeared to find a buyer when the DEA agent said he could sell the nuclear fuel to a general in Iran who intended to build a nuclear weapon.

Prosecutors say Ebisawa was repeatedly reminded that the fuel was to be used for weapons, and at one point replied, "Yes, I know."

He went on to suggest he could also supply plutonium, which would be even "better" and make a more powerful bomb, the documents say.

They say Ebisawa was invited onto a video call with somebody posing as an Iranian general as part of the ruse.

He eventually brought a sample of the nuclear material to Thailand, where it was seized and confirmed to be genuine, the documents say.

In exchange, he asked for a vast list of weapons, including sniper rifles and surface-to-air missiles, the indictment says. It included a WhatsApp screenshot of the weapons he wanted:

A screengrab of a message with a list of weapons.
A screengrab of a message presented as evidence by US prosecutors, purporting to show a list of weapons requested by Takeshi Ebisawa in exchange for nuclear fuel.Department of Justice

In a statement announcing the indictment, US Attorney Damian Williams said Ebisawa "brazenly trafficked material containing uranium and weapons-grade plutonium from Burma to other countries."

(Burma is an alternative name for Myanmar.)

"He did so while believing that the material was going to be used in the development of a nuclear weapons program, and while also negotiating for the purchase of deadly weapons," he said.

He called the case "an extraordinary example of the depravity of drug traffickers who operate with total disregard for human life" and also referred to Ebisawa's conduct as "evil."

Ebisawa was charged with eight separate crimes, covering the allegations around moving nuclear material as well as those related to money laundering, trafficking narcotics, and trading in conventional weapons.

A codefendant, Somphop Singhasiri, 61, was also charged with narcotics and firearms offenses.

Most of the counts have a maximum punishment of life in prison.

Read the original article on Business Insider