Yakuza chief Kiyoshi Takayama arrested in Japan

Fears of violent power struggle in crime syndicate after Yamaguchi-gumi’s second-in-command, Kiyoshi Takayama, is detained in Kobe

Takayama Kiyoshi, the second-in-command of the Yamaguchi-gumi and leader of its most ruthless faction, attends a 2005 ceremony Photograph: Japanese police sources

The arrest today of the de facto leader of Japan’s most powerful underworld organisation has sparked fears of a violent internal power struggle, as police step up their crackdown on organised crime.

Kiyoshi Takayama, the second-in-command of the Yamaguchi-gumi, is being held on suspicion of extorting about ¥40m (£300,000) from a man involved in the construction industry.

The national police agency declared war on the Yamaguchi-gumi in September in an attempt to rein it in before the release of its leader, Kenichi Shinoda, from prison next spring.

Shinoda began a six-year prison sentence in December 2005 for violating gun control laws and entrusted the running of the Yamaguchi-gumi to Takayama, who is also head of the organisation’s biggest and most violent faction, the Kodo-kai.

“If Takayama is successfully prosecuted it will be devastating for the Yamaguchi-gumi, and could even spark a war for control of the organisation,” said Jake Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice: an American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan.

“He has been running the organisation with an iron fist, and other factions will see his arrest as an opportunity. His antagonism towards the police has angered some in the organisation. He is not a popular man.”

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