SUNDAY, April 21, 2024

Japanese, Thai men charged in nuclear sale to Iran – US DOJ

Japanese, Thai men charged in nuclear sale to Iran – US DOJ

US authorities announced on Wednesday that the leader of a Japanese crime syndicate, Takeshi Ebisawa, has been charged with conspiring to traffic nuclear materials from Myanmar for potential use by Iran in nuclear weapons. 

The investigation involved the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) offices in Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Denmark, and India, as well as the Department of Justice's Office of International Affairs and the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section. 

The US expressed gratitude to Indonesia, Japan, and Thailand for their cooperation in the prosecution.

Ebisawa, aged 60, and his Thai co-defendant, Somphop Singhasiri, 61, were involved in trafficking drugs, weapons, and nuclear materials, including offering uranium and weapons-grade plutonium, anticipating Iran's use for nuclear weapons, according to Anne Milgram, head of the DEA. 

Both individuals have been ordered detained.

Ebisawa is specifically accused of conspiring to sell weapons-grade nuclear material and lethal narcotics from Myanmar and purchasing military weapons for an armed insurgent group. 

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen emphasized the chilling potential consequences if these efforts had succeeded.

The charges stem from a 2022 indictment for international narcotics trafficking and firearms offences.

Ebisawa, identified as a leader within the Yakuza transnational organized crime syndicate allegedly contacted an individual he believed to be an Iranian general in early 2020 to offer nuclear weapons components. 

In return, he sought to acquire weapons for an ethnic insurgent group in Myanmar. However, the purported Iranian general turned out to be an undercover agent from the DEA.

During a meeting a week later, Ebisawa and two others presented the undercover DEA agent with containers holding a powdery yellow substance described as 'yellowcake.' Photos labelled "nuclear samples" were shown, and Thai authorities seized the samples, which were sent to the US for analysis. 

The US Department of Justice reported that both samples contained detectable quantities of uranium, thorium, and plutonium, the latter being weapons-grade.

If convicted, Ebisawa faces up to 30 years in prison for nuclear trafficking and conspiracy charges, and potential life imprisonment for conspiracy to traffic narcotics and conspiracy to possess firearms, including machine guns and destructive devices. 

In a February 2022 video conference, one of Ebisawa’s co-conspirators claimed to have over two tons of Thorium-232 and more than 100 kilograms of "yellowcake" uranium, asserting the capability to produce as much as five tons of nuclear materials in Myanmar.

Photo by Reuters