As part of an ongoing effort to crack down on international crime, the U.S. Treasury announced Thursday it will freeze monetary assets of two key members of Japan's largest mafia, Bloomberg reports.
The new sanctions target the powerful "Yamaguchi-gumi," the largest of a number crime syndicates collectively known as the Yakuza that have been powerful forces in Japan for decades and often operate abroad, according a profile of the gangs published earlier this month by The New York Times.
Kenichi Shinoda, the group's 70-year-old "godfather," and his deputy, Kiyoshi Takayama, 64, will have their U.S. assets frozen in a move that one Tokyo-based journalist called "a slap in the face of the Japanese government" for taking a lenient stance toward organized crime, according to Bloomberg.
It's the first time the U.S. government has exercised powers granted in a 2011 executive order issued by President Obama to "target and disrupt significant transnational criminal organisations," according to the BBC.
Naming four transnational organized crime groups, including the Yakuza, the order authorized the U.S. Treasury, working with the Department of Justice and State Department, to identify people involved with the groups and subsequently block their financial transactions.
According to Reuters, the Yakuza alone rakes in "billions of dollars" per year in illicit profits from a range of criminal activity including weapons trafficking, sex tourism, prostitution, money laundering and more.
Many of these profits are later invested in overseas markets or placed in foreign bank accounts.
"One of the things that these organizations do is use the wealth they earn from illegal activities to try and infiltrate legitimate markets ... That creates distortion in the market that we are trying to address," David Cohen, the U.S. Treasury's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, told Reuters.
According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Yakuza's criminal activity in the U.S. primarily involves drug trafficking and money laundering.
The Treasury has declined to publicly release the total value of the assets frozen by Thursday's sanctions.