Following the retirement from show business of Japan's most ubiquitous television comic and host, Shinsuke Shimada, law enforcement is now unraveling the details of the star's dealings with yakuza groups--Japanese organized crime syndicates--which investigators believe include profiting from suspicious property auctions. On Tuesday the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (TMPD) began an investigation into Shimada’s business dealings with organized crime members and began questioning the management of Yoshimoto Kogyo Co., the talent agency that guided Shimada’s sprawling entertainment career. The investigators are meeting with Yoshimoto Kogyo executives again Wednesday.

Investigators with the TMPD’s Organized Crime Control Division (警視庁組織犯罪対策部) working with the Osaka Police Department, have obtained information that Shimada worked with a retired boss of the Yamaguchi-gumi, the largest of the yakuza groups, Tadamasa Goto, to purchase auctioned properties in Tokyo at suspiciously low rates from roughly 2004 to 2008, reaping high profits by reselling the properties and developing them. In addition, Shimada also is suspected of working with a subsidiary of the Yamaguchi-gumi, the Kyokushin Rengo, to buy auctioned properties at low prices within the Osaka area and possibly Okinawa. According to Osaka Police Department sources, Shimada was successful in getting a rival crime group from Tokyo, the Sumiyoshikai, to move out of their offices in Osaka, and acquired their building with the aid of Yamaguchi-gumi members.

Yoshimoto Kogyo, the holding company of the Kansai-based entertainment giant Yoshimoto Group, which manages Shimada through its Yoshimoto Creative Agency, has tasked their compliance committee with trying to eliminate any ties between the company and organized crime. The recent scandal has drawn significant scrutiny from law enforcement. Further scandal could result in serious problems for the firm in the future.

Until recently, it has not been illegal to make payoffs to organized crime members; however, the Tokyo Organized Crime Exclusionary Ordinances, which go into effect on October 1, criminalize payoffs, payouts, and anything else that would fall under “providing services” to the yakuza. Under the law, companies involved with organized crime will be given warnings, but on their second violation managers will be arrested and their company name publicly announced. While Shimada may be at risk of being prosecuted under the new statute, police sources say that he could possibly face charges under current laws, including extortion, interference with auction bidding, or violations of the Attorney Act (弁護士法), which governs Japan’s legal system.

In March of 2008, according to the Japan Times and police sources, the TMPD arrested several members of a Yamaguchi-gumi front company for working to evict tenants from properties that a listed firm, Suruga Corporation, wished to acquire. In Japan, only lawyers are allowed to negotiate evictions and the yakuza members had clearly violated those laws. In the subsequent investigation, Suruga Corporation was revealed to have paid millions of dollars to the yakuza for their help in acquiring properties. However, the investigation eventually fizzled out and no one from Suruga Corporation was charged with a crime. Even though paying off the yakuza was not a crime at the time, the presence of former high-ranking bureaucrats from the National Police Agency and an ex-prosecutor on the Suruga board of directors made the scandal an embarrassment to all involved. The relationships between Suruga and the Yamaguchi-gumi, however, did result in almost all banks cutting financial ties with the firm, as well as the company’s delisting from the Tokyo Stock Exchange. According to law enforcement and Kyodo News service, Suruga Corporation executives who knew about the police investigation and sold off their stock before it became public knowledge were later arrested for insider trading this May.

Yoshimoto Kogyo was listed on the stock exchange for several years but voluntarily and mysteriously delisted themselves in January of 2010 with little public explanation. Police sources say the delisting was done to obscure problematic ties with organized crime, though Yoshimoto Kogyo has never admitted this.

Since Shimada’s resignation from TV, the roots of his ties to the yakuza began are coming into focus. It appears to stem from an angry exchange that he had roughly a decade ago with members of a Kansai-based right-wing group popularly known as Jingisha who were in the middle of a demonstration. Shimada demanded they move their vans out of the way so he could get to work on time. One of the right wing group members told him, “You should know that we have the mark of the emperor behind us.” To which Shimada replied, “That’s no big deal, I have the mark of the emperor on my ass too,” comparing the imperial crest (菊の紋) to his anus. According to the TMPD Public Security Bureau that deals with radical left and right-wing groups, when Shimada related this episode on a television program, Ningen Mandala, in the spring of 2005, Taikosha, Japan’s third largest right-wing party, staged demonstrations in front of his house and at the Yoshimoto Kogyo Offices. According to Osaka Police Department sources, Shimada turned to the yakuza for help in dealing with the situation and that is when his relationships with them became extremely close. Many right wing groups in Japan are often backed by or financially supported by yakuza. The Yamaguchi-gumi Kyokushin Rengo was able to stop the demonstrations and Shimada responded with a large cash donation to their leader, Hirofumi Hashimoto, as a gesture of thanks.