US arrests 'yakuza chief' who sought missiles for Myanmar and Sri Lanka rebels

Justice Department accuses men of trafficking drugs and attempting to acquire missiles for rebel groups

Takeshi Ebisawa, Sompak Rukrasaranee, Somphob Singhasiri and Suksan Jullanan were arrested in New York on Monday and Tuesday. AFP

US authorities said that they had arrested a Japanese yakuza organised crime leader and three Thai men on charges of trafficking heroin and methamphetamine as well as trying to acquire surface-to-air missiles for rebel groups in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

Takeshi Ebisawa, Sompak Rukrasaranee, Somphob Singhasiri and Suksan Jullanan were arrested in New York on Monday and Tuesday on drug and arms trafficking as well as money laundering charges, the Justice Department said.

Under investigation by the US Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Thailand since at least 2019, the men had arranged to sell an undercover agent large quantities of heroin and methamphetamine from Myanmar's rebel United Wa State Army.

Meanwhile, Mr Ebisawa reportedly sought to buy automatic weapons, rockets, machine guns and surface-to-air missiles for Sri Lanka's Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) — known as the Tamil Tigers — and the United Wa State Army, the Karen National Union and the Shan State Army, ethnic minority forces in long-standing fights with government forces.

On February 3, 2021, Mr Ebisawa and an associate travelled to Copenhagen where the undercover DEA agent and two undercover Danish police officers showed them an array of US military arms ostensibly for sale, including machine guns and anti-tank rockets.

They also showed Mr Ebisawa photos and a video of Stinger missiles used to attack aircraft.

“We allege Mr Ebisawa and his co-conspirators brokered deals with an undercover DEA agent to buy heavy-duty weaponry and sell large quantities of illegal drugs,” the Justice Department said on Thursday.

“The drugs were destined for New York streets, and the weapons shipments were meant for factions in unstable nations.”

Mr Ebisawa, the department said, was “a leader of the yakuza transnational organised crime syndicate”, using an umbrella term for a number of Japanese crime families.

Mr Jullanan has dual Thai-US citizenship while Mr Singhasiri and Mr Rukrasaranee are Thai citizens.

During the investigation, Mr Ebisawa told the undercover DEA agent that Mr Jullanan was a Thai air force general and that Mr Rukrasaranee was a retired Thai military officer, the indictment said.

The Justice Department did not explain how the four men came to be in the US when they were arrested in New York.

Updated: April 08, 2022, 6:02 PM