Shinsuke Shimada speaks at a press conference in Tokyo last Tuesday.
The retirement last week of a popular TV host due to his relationship with a gang member has brought attention to the deep and longstanding ties between organized crime and the entertainment business.
Various parts of society have made active efforts to eradicate links with crime syndicates, but the entertainment world is yet to follow suit.
Police have indicated they will step up efforts to oust organized crime from the entertainment industry following the retirement of Shinsuke Shimada.
The National Police Agency will ask people from Yoshimoto Kogyo Co., the talent agency that represented Shimada before his retirement, to provide details about Shimada's connections to the criminal underworld.
"A man in an organized crime group helped me solve a problem, and I felt I had an obligation to him," Shimada, 55, said last Tuesday night in Tokyo during the press conference at which he announced his retirement. He referred respectfully to the gangster, a senior member of the Yamaguchi-gumi crime syndicate, even though it was their relationship that had brought Shimada's career to an end.
According to investigators, several years ago Shimada made a comment on TV that offended members of a right-wing organization, who began to harass him.
Shimada met the senior gang member through Jiro Watanabe, a former boxing world super flyweight champion who is currently making a final appeal against a prison sentence for attempted extortion.
The gang member resolved Shimada's problem with the right-wing organization, and became close to the TV celebrity.
Troubles in their off-screen lives can seriously damage celebrities' careeers, and the desire to resolve such troubles discreetly can be an opportunity for crime syndicates to take advantage of them.
"It seems many famous showbiz types' first interaction with crime groups comes when they ask the gangs to solve problems for them, such as collecting unpaid appearance fees or breaking off relationships with members of the opposite sex," said a senior police official who specializes in organized crime investigations.
Once a relationship is established, gang members repeatedly remind the celebrity of their "debt," making it difficult for the celebrity to cut ties.
Some situations of this kind see the debt repaid with cash.
For example, a leading talent agency that was investigated in a tax-evasion case in 2001 was found to have made regular payments of several million yen to an organized crime group the agency had asked to handle a problem involving an artist on the agency's books.
Over the last couple of years, Yoshimoto has stressed to its artists the importance of not interacting with gang members. But Shimada did not heed the warnings.
A Yoshimoto executive said: "An artist who has a problem that needs solving should ask a lawyer or the police. It's totally wrong to get involved with a senior member of the Yamaguchi-gumi crime syndicate."
The links between organized crime and show business go back to the years after World War II, when gangs began arranging musical and theatrical events, according to showbiz journalist Yuji Watanabe.
Even if organized crime groups could be stopped from forming new relationships in the entertainment world, many show business people would still be carrying an outstanding "debt" to a crime syndicate.
Gang members have long invited celebrities to their golf tournaments and parties "to boast and show off their influence," a senior police officer said.
But in recent years, gang members have used celebrities' name recognition to benefit their business deals.
A man with professional ties to the entertainment world said he was asked to invest in a Dubai-based business by a veteran actor whom he had met through the head of a crime syndicate. The man declined to invest.
"I thought the syndicate was using a face from showbiz to give the project some credibility. I thought the gangsters were planning to manage the business in the end," the man said.
In early March, after the dust settled from investigations into crime syndicates' involvement in sumo match-fixing, a senior NPA official said: "The entertainment world is one of the few refuges left for organized crime. We hope to demolish the relationship between the two somehow."
Police authorities have long sought the help of people within various fields--from sports to construction to finance businesses--to eradicate organized crime from their industries.
The entertainment business, however, lacks a representative body like the Japan Sumo Association that can unite different groups within the industry.
Another problem is that contracts between artists and their management agencies are often limited to business matters, making it difficult to implement moral guidelines that would apply to the entire entertainment industry.
"Until the entertainment business, which is an influential force on society, gets together and cuts all ties with organized crime, celebrities will probably continue to be taken advantage of by gangs and wind up suffering from the same problems again and again," a senior NPA official said.