The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday announced the arrests of a suspected Japanese organized crime leader and three Thais who allegedly tried to sell large amounts of heroin and methamphetamine internationally to arm rebel groups in Myanmar and Sri Lanka with surface-to-air missiles and other weapons.
Takeshi Ebisawa, who is a Japanese citizen, Thai nationals Somphop Singhasiri and Sompak Rukrasaranee, and American-Thai dual national Suksan Jullanan (alias Bobby) were arrested in Manhattan earlier this week following a probe that began as early as June 2019, according to a document filed in the U.S. Court for the Southern District of New York.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency began investigating Ebisawa in 2019 and identified him as a Yakuza organized crime leader.
“We allege Mr. Ebisawa and his co-conspirators brokered deals with an undercover DEA agent to buy heavy-duty weaponry and sell large quantities of illegal drugs,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a news release announcing the arrests.
“The drugs were destined for New York streets and the weapons shipments were meant for factions in unstable nations.”
“The Yakuza is a network of highly organized, transnational crime families with affiliates in Asia, Europe, and the Americas, and is involved in various criminal activities, including weapons trafficking, drug trafficking, human trafficking, fraud and money laundering,” U.S. justice officials said.
Investigators allege that Ebisawa introduced an undercover agent posing as a narcotics and weapons trafficker to associates in Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and the United States to set up drug and weapons transactions – noting that the four suspects “negotiated multiple narcotics and weapons transactions” with the undercover agent.
Ebisawa, Jullanan and Rukrasaranee conspired to broker the purchase of U.S.-made surface-to-air missiles and other weapons “for multiple ethnic armed groups in Burma, and to accept large quantities of heroin and methamphetamine for distribution as partial payment for the weapons,” the charges allege.
Joined by Singhasiri, Ebisawa sought to sell 500 kg (1,100 pounds) of methamphetamine and 500 kg of heroin to an undercover agent, justice officials said, adding that the drugs were to be distributed in New York. Singhasiri allegedly conspired to possess machine guns and other firearms to protect narcotics shipments and Ebisawa allegedly worked to launder U.S. $100,000 in “purported narcotics proceeds from the United States to Japan.”
Ebisawa faces charges of conspiracy to import narcotics; conspiracy to acquire, transfer and possess surface-to-air missiles; conspiracy to possess firearms including machine guns and destructive devices; and money laundering.
Charging documents allege that Ebisawa sought to buy the surface-to-air missiles, rockets, machine guns and automatic weapons for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a Sri Lankan rebel group also known as the Tamil Tigers.
“Though defeated militarily in 2009, the LTTE continues to attract international financial support,” the justice department said in the charging document, adding that the LTTE is designated by the United States as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
Singhasiri faces charges of conspiracy to import narcotics and conspiracy to possess firearms including machine guns and destructive devices.
Jullanan and Rukrasaranee face charges of conspiracy to import narcotics; conspiracy to acquire, transfer and possess surface-to-air missiles; and conspiracy to possess firearms including machine guns and destructive devices. Justice officials allege the two and Ebisawa discussed potential deals to supply missiles and other weapons to the Myanmar groups including the Shan State Army and United Wa State Army.
The weapons and drug charges carry penalties of up to life in prison if convicted.
“The expansive reach of transnational criminal networks, like the Yakuza, presents a serious threat to the safety and health of all communities. Ebisawa and his associates intended to distribute hundreds of kilograms of methamphetamine and heroin to 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 in a prepared statement.
“These arrests represent the unwavering determination of the DEA, together with our U.S. and international partners, to target and bring to justice violent criminals who lead transnational drug trafficking organizations that continue to flood our country with dangerous drugs.”