Japan Charges Online Gambling Middle-Man With Organised Crime Offence

November 22, 2023
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Japanese police are prosecuting online gambling activity with full force for the first time, re-arresting a payments executive on organised crime charges, while charging a second executive and probing five alleged collaborators and 21 customers.
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Japanese police are prosecuting online gambling activity with full force for the first time, re-arresting a payments executive on organised crime charges, while charging a second executive and probing five alleged collaborators and 21 customers.

Tokyo police on Thursday (November 16) announced the re-arrest of Yoshiaki Maeda, a 42-year-old payments processing executive, on suspicion of violating organised crime law.

Maeda is alleged to have channelled some 400,000 deposits by 42,000 customers since 2021 via his Sumo Pay platform to the accounts of companies that he controlled.

Jiji Press reported that the arrest marks the first time a payments company executive in Japan has been detained for concealing criminal proceeds, an organised crime offence.

As such, it is a landmark and potentially crippling development for one of the world’s largest online gambling markets and the massive affiliate ecosystem that supports it.

Police said the Sumo Pay platform processed gambling transactions and remitted some ¥20bn ($135m) to overseas online gambling operators.

Maeda was first arrested in September and charged with aiding and abetting habitual gambling, a much less serious offence, but also the first such charge levelled against the payments industry.

Also arrested that month was fellow payments executive Shinya Tokita, 42, on the same charge.

Following a joint probe with Aichi and Fukuoka prefectural police, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department announced on September 27 that Maeda and his alleged collaborators had been detained after pocketing more than ¥2.1bn ($14.1m) in commissions.

However, authorities had been observing the online gambling network and its remittance activity since at least early 2021, Jiji Press reported.

Another five men and women were charged with assisting the suspects’ operations, and 21 gamblers were charged with simple gambling offences for using their home computers to access the gambling sites.

Maeda’s re-arrest and the September arrests and charges confirm not only the advent of a much tougher police line against online gambling, but reflects a shift that has been progressing quietly for more than two years.

The role of underground payments processing in Japan’s online gambling market came into focus in a regional fraud case in April 2022.

Since then, gambling-linked payments arrangements have been attacked by media commentators, anti-gambling activists and even the national broadcaster NHK, with some experts calling for a crackdown on the sector.

Throughout these incidents and media coverage, police had given no indication that they were investigating Maeda’s alleged operation or any other network, instead restricting engagement on the issue to public warnings that gambling on foreign websites is illegal.

That campaign was launched in part to address widespread public assumptions that it is not illegal to gamble on foreign websites at home. Police efforts were reinforced by government suggestions that it might legislate to block offending sites.

The message that online gambling can no longer be enjoyed with impunity is now loud and clear, although the courts are yet to validate prosecutions of individuals who gamble at home.

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