Southeast Asia

US Charges Yakuza Man Over Nuclear Materials From Myanmar


US officials have charged a Japanese man, described as a Yakuza transnational crime leader, with conspiring to traffic nuclear materials from Burma (Myanmar).

Department of Justice officials alleged on Wednesday that Takeshi Ebisawa and associates in Thailand showed samples of nuclear material to an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent, who posed as a narcotics and weapons trafficker.

In a press release, they said the US worked with Thai authorities to seize the nuclear samples, which were later transferred to the US and confirmed by a nuclear forensic lab to be uranium, thorium and weapons-grade plutonium.


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US attorney Damian Williams said: “It is impossible to overstate the seriousness of the conduct alleged in today’s Indictment.  As alleged, Takeshi Ebisawa brazenly trafficked material containing uranium and weapons-grade plutonium from Burma to other countries.

“He allegedly did so while believing that the material was going to be used in the development of a nuclear weapons programme, and the weapons-grade plutonium he trafficked, if produced in sufficient quantities, could have been used for that purpose.

“Even as he allegedly attempted to sell nuclear materials, Ebisawa also negotiated for the purchase of deadly weapons, including surface-to-air missiles.”

The US indictment, which was unsealed in a Manhattan court, said the undercover DEA agent agreed to arrange the sale of the nuclear materials from Ebisawa to an associate posing as an Iranian general.

It said Ebisawa alleged he had access to a large quantity of nuclear materials that he wanted to sell. It is alleged that he wanted to purchase weapons for an ethnic insurgent group.

The Japanese man, 60, and co-defendant Somphop Singhasiri, a 61-year-old Thai national, were previously charged in April 2022 with international narcotics trafficking and firearms offences, and both have been ordered to be held custody.

The two accused are due to appear before a US District Court judge on Thursday afternoon. They face eight charges, which could see them jailed for decades, if convicted.

Prosecutors noted that the Yakuza is a crime syndicate that operates in multiple countries around the world.

“Ebisawa’s criminal activities have included large-scale narcotics and weapons trafficking, and his international criminal network extends through Asia, Europe, and the United States, among other places,” the indictment said.


More intrigue on the Thai-Myanmar border

Ebisawa is alleged to have met the undercover DEA agent on the Thai-Myanmar border and in Phuket. It is said the Yakuza man may have had dealings with the Shan State Army South, an ethnic group in northeast Myanmar.

This is not the first time there have been reports of nuclear materials or weapons emerging from Myanmar.

In 2009, two defectors who went to the Thai-Myanmar border described an underground facility in the country’s central north where North Koreans were allegedly trying to develop a nuclear device.

That issue was taken very seriously by a former atomic energy inspector and US leaders, who were suspicious of the Burmese generals’ close ties with Pyongyang and Russia, which have continued to this day.

However, in 2016 the NLD government led by Aung San Suu Kyi ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and later joined the Convention on Nuclear Safety. And in 2018, it also signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Given the volatile state of the country amid the war that has been raging on multiple fronts for the past three years, this may not be the last we hear of such concerns.

The US indictment said one of Ebisawa’s co-conspirators claimed they had “more than 2,000 kilograms (about two tonnes) of Thorium-232 and more than 100 kilograms of uranium”.


  • Jim Pollard




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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.

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