Former yakuza gangster arrested in golf-clubs drug case

Japanese suspect Kazuhiko Ono, 57 is arrested by Crime Suppression Division police at a condominium in Bangkok's Huai Khwang district. He is accused of trying to con a compatriot into smuggling illicit drugs to Japan, hidden in golf club headcovers. (Photo by Wassayos Ngamkham)

A former member of a Japanese yakuza has been arrested for allegedly trying to fool a compatriot into smuggling crystal methamphetamine into Japan, hidden in the headcovers of a set of golf clubs.

Kazuhiko Ono, 57, was taken into custody at his room in Lumpini Park condominium in Bang Kapi area, Huai Khwang district on Tuesday evening by Crime Suppression Division police accompanied by officials from the Japanese embassy, CSD chief Pol Maj Gen Jirabhop Bhuridej told a news conference on Wednesday.

Police also seized some crystal methamphetamine, marijuana and one ecstasy pill.

The raid followed a request by the Japanese embassy on March 5 for the arrest a drug smuggling suspect. 

A Japanese man had earlier filed a complaint with the embassy that a compatriot tried to trick him into smuggling an illicit drug into Japan, Pol Maj Gen Jirabhop said.

CSD investigators learned that the golf clubs were the property of Mr Ono, who had been staying in Thailand for more than 19 years and was married to a Thai woman.

He had a legally obtained retirement visa and operated a tour firm as a front for illegal money lending services, the CSD chief said. He had also become involved in transnational drugs smuggling.

According to investigators, Mr Ono took a golf bag containing seven clubs out of the condominium on March 2 and went to see a Japanese friend who was about to leave for Japan. He asked his friend to hand the golf clubs over to another friend in Japan. 

However, his compatriot became suspicious. Three of the golf clubs were old and seemed heavy. Each weighed about 545 grammes, whereas they would normally weigh 200-300 grammes. 

Besides, the headcovers of the three golf clubs and the handles were for different brands.

So he went to the embassy. The headcovers contained crystal meth.

Investigators obtained a search warrant from the Criminal court to search Mr Ono's condominium room, where they found some drugs. 

The investigation also revealed Mr Ono was involved in physical assaults, loan sharking and illicit drug trading in Thailand, Pol Maj Gen Jirabhop alleged.

During interrogation, Mr Ono denied all charges. He admitted to being a former member of the Japanese yakuza, but said he had cut off his little finger and left the gang. He later began a tour business in Thailand.

He insisted he was not aware there were drugs inside the golf club headcovers.

The drugs found in his room were bought for his own use. Some were left by friends, he said. 

He was held on a charge of having drugs in his possession with intent to sell.

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