Japan banks pledge to clean up mob-linked loans
Mizuho Financial Group President Yasuhiro Sato raises a hand before speaking to the Committee on Financial Affairs of the lower house of Parliament in Tokyo Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013. Japanese banks are pledging more stringent efforts to prevent dealings with organized crime after an investigation into such lending at Mizuho prompted disclosures of wider problems. Sato forfeited six months pay, and the chairman of Mihuzo's banking business resigned. Asked if that was penalty enough, Sato acknowledged some people were calling for harsher penalties, but noted that his bank was not the only lender to have been caught extending mob-linked loans. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)
TOKYO - Japanese banks are pledging more stringent efforts to halt loans to organized crime after an investigation at Mizuho, the country's second biggest bank, led to disclosures of mob links throughout the banking industry.
Lawmakers grilled bank executives and government officials, including Finance Minister Taro Aso, in a hearing Wednesday that focused on how and why financial institutions including consumer credit companies, banks and insurers have failed to fully comply with a ban on doing business with gangs and their associates.
"It's not enough just to make rules if you don't actually carry them out," said Yuzuru Takeuchi, a lawmaker with the New Komeito Party, the coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democrats.
Aso was repeatedly asked why the Financial Services Agency and other regulators had failed to crack down more effectively on dealings with individuals linked to yakuza, as Japanese criminal gangs are known. Yakuza have long been involved in many areas of the economy, despite efforts to freeze them out of the financial system.
"Much remains to be done to resolve this problem," Aso told the hearing. "We must follow up on this thoroughly or it will just remerge later."
Industry leaders, including the heads of the banking, consumer credit and securities associations, acknowledged that lenders and other financial institutions are struggling to comply with longstanding laws against doing business with organized crime.
Kazuhiro Omori, head of the Japan Consumer Credit Association, said his group was revising its rules on such issues and preparing to close any accounts violating them.
"It is very difficult. There are many cases to be reviewed," he said.
Japanese securities companies have long had access to police data on people linked to criminal groups, but sharing of that information with banks has lagged, police and other officials said.
Still, lawmakers chided Mizuho Financial Group's president, Yasuhiro Sato, for delegating "know your customer" responsibilities to the bank's credit affiliates. They also accused regulators of lax enforcement and of failing to provide enough support to financial institutions to help them prevent illegal business transactions.
Sato was summoned for questioning by lawmakers after his bank said it failed to act after discovering more than 200 million yen ($2 million) in mob-related loans at its consumer credit affiliates.
"This case was very regrettable, I must say," Sato said. "I intend to work to ensure a clear break from such anti-social forces. This is my responsibility."
Sato forfeited six month's pay over the loans, which were made by Mizuho credit affiliate Orient Corp., and the chairman of Mihuzo's banking business resigned.
Asked if that was penalty enough, Sato acknowledged some people were calling for harsher penalties, but noted that his bank was not the only lender to have been caught extending mob-linked loans.