Trial of yakuza group leaders begins in western Japan

A trial of top leaders of a yakuza gangster group over four cases involving murder and assault has begun at a high court in the western Japanese prefecture of Fukuoka. The head of the Kudo-kai group pleaded not guilty in all of the cases, while a deputy leader admitted involvement in two of them.

Nomura Satoru, the head of the notorious crime syndicate based in the city of Kitakyushu, and Tanoue Fumio, its second-in-command, appeared at the Fukuoka High Court on Wednesday.

The two are charged with murder and other crimes in connection with the four violent incidents that took place between 1998 and 2014.

In one of the cases, a former chief of a fisheries cooperative was shot dead.

In August 2021, a lower court sentenced Nomura to death for his involvement in the four cases as a mastermind. The court also handed down a life sentence to Tanoue.

At the start of the trial on Wednesday, the defense pleaded not guilty for Nomura, denying that he was involved. It said the lower court ruling was handed down without direct evidence and lacked objectivity.

For Tanoue, the defense admitted involvement in two of the cases -- attacks on a nurse and a dentist -- saying he ordered the assaults at his own discretion.

Prosecutors called the lower court ruling rational, sensible and in line with the gangster group's organizational structure.

They said Tanoue changed his previous statements and admitted to involvement to protect Nomura from criminal liability.