On 1 December Yokohama customs and police departments announced the arrest of an allegedly high ranking 49-year-old member of the Sumiyoshikai yakuza group along with six other men in a case of smuggling. They found in his possession 17kg of rock salt, which was actually planted on him by Yokohama customs agents prior to his arrest. All involved are considering it a flawless example of proper law-enforcement.

If you’re confused by this then you might not be familiar with the police tactic known as “oyogasesosa” (swim investigation) or “controlled delivery” as it’s called in English speaking countries.

■ What is oyogasesosa?

The English translation of “swim investigation” uses “swim” in the sense of letting something float along a river by itself. In that way, if contraband such as drugs or firearms is discovered by authorities, they’ll let it float through the rest of its delivery and arrest everyone at its destination.

This is performed in many other countries as a controlled delivery, the exact definition of which varies by country. In some cases it involves an undercover police officer posing as a deliveryman and making an arrest at the moment the suspect accepts the package of an illegal substance sent through commercial courier. Some countries also have certain provisions on when and how a controlled delivery can be performed such as specific forms of evidence or a court order.

In Japan it would appear that no special provision is needed to carry out a controlled delivery. As long as the investigation it’s a part of is legal, officers are free to carry it out at their discretion.

■ Available in two ways

In Japan there are two variations of the controlled delivery: a live controlled delivery (live CD) and clean controlled delivery (CCD). A live CD is when the officers discover the contraband but let it sit until someone comes to pick it up. They then follow it to its destination and arrest everyone in one fell swoop hoping to catch some high ranking criminals who may be overseeing the deal. In a CCD the same process goes down, but this time the cops secretly swap out the drugs for something else like salt.

They each have their advantages and disadvantages. A live CD is less suspicious to the criminals and allows them to be caught red handed but runs the risk of losing both the arrests and the substances if things go south. A CCD, on the other hand, allows the authorities to hang onto the drugs but makes it easier for their cover to be blown.

▼ The real drugs that Yokohama customs kept and replaced with salt

■ Is it possible to convict someone for possession of salt?

Surprisingly yes. This may be unique to Japan but in the event of a CCD, someone accepting a shipment of rock salt on the assumption that it’s an illegal narcotic can be convicted under Article 8 of the – get ready for this – Act Concerning Special Provisions for the Narcotics and Psychotropics Control Act, etc. and Other Matters for the Prevention of Activities Encouraging Illicit Conducts and Other Activities Involving Controlled Substances through International Cooperation.

“Article 8. Any person who with intent to commit any drug offense (limited to those involving import or export of any controlled substance.) imports or exports any drug or other article that the said person has received or acquired as a controlled substance, shall be imprisoned with hard labor not exceeding three years or fined not more than five hundred thousand yen.
Any person who with intent to commit any drug offense (limited to those involving transfer, receipt or possession of any controlled substance) transfers to or receives from another person any drug or other article as a controlled substance or possesses any drug or other article that the said person has received or acquired as a controlled substance, shall be imprisoned with hard labor not exceeding two years or fined not more than three hundred thousand yen.”

What this vaguely means is that even if the drugs aren’t really drugs, as long as the parties involved believe they’re dealing drugs, then it can be considered a crime.

Article 8 seems to grant the authorities a considerable amount of freedom in tackling smuggling and has led to several large-scale arrests and seizures in the past such as the 17kg of speed valued at around 12 billion yen (US$10M) confiscated in oyogasesosa leading to the Sumiyoshikai arrest, or 40kg of uppers seized by Tokyo police in 2012 in the same way. On the other hand, Osaka police last month were reported to have lost track of some handguns during a controlled delivery.

Still, this method of policing seems fraught with the potential of severe mistakes or gross exploitation by police or rival crime groups. On the other hand, it could be an interesting plot device in yakuza films of the future. I haven’t seen a really good one in a while.

Source: Act Concerning Special Provisions…International Cooperation (Japanese / English), Naver Matome, MSN Sankei News, Taiho Keijibengo, CD, jijicom (Japanese), EMCDDA (English)
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