Thursday, February 22, 2024

Justice Department Announces Nuclear Materials Trafficking Charges Against Japanese Yakuza Leader Takeshi Ebisawa,


The U.S. Justice Department released the below information and photo.

A superseding indictment was unsealed in Manhattan today charging a Japanese national with conspiring with a network of associates to traffic nuclear materials from Burma to other countries.

According to court documents, Takeshi Ebisawa, 60, and co-defendant Somphop Singhasiri, 61, were previously charged in April 2022 with international narcotics trafficking and firearms offenses, and both have been ordered detained.

“The defendant stands accused of conspiring to sell weapons grade nuclear material and lethal narcotics from Burma, and to purchase military weaponry on behalf of an armed insurgent group,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “It is chilling to imagine the consequences had these efforts succeeded and the Justice Department will hold accountable those who traffic in these materials and threaten U.S. national security and international stability.”

“As alleged, the defendant brazenly trafficked material containing uranium and weapons-grade plutonium from Burma to other countries,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York. “He did so while believing that the material was going to be used in the development of a nuclear weapons program, and while also negotiating for the purchase of deadly weapons. It is impossible to overstate the seriousness of this conduct. I want to thank the career prosecutors of my office and our law enforcement partners for ensuring that the defendant will now face justice in an American court.”      

“As alleged, the defendants in this case trafficked in drugs, weapons, and nuclear material – going so far as to offer uranium and weapons-grade plutonium fully expecting that Iran would use it for nuclear weapons,” said Administrator Anne Milgram of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). “This is an extraordinary example of the depravity of drug traffickers who operate with total disregard for human life. I commend the men and women of DEA and this prosecution team for their tireless work to protect us from such evil.”  

According to the allegations contained in the indictment, beginning in early 2020, Ebisawa informed UC-1 and a DEA confidential source (CS-1) that Ebisawa had access to a large quantity of nuclear materials that he wanted to sell. Later that year, Ebisawa sent UC-1 a series of photographs depicting rocky substances with Geiger counters measuring radiation, as well as pages of what Ebisawa represented to be lab analyses indicating the presence of thorium and uranium in the depicted substances. In response to Ebisawa’s repeated inquiries, UC-1 agreed, as part of the DEA’s investigation, to help Ebisawa broker the sale of his nuclear materials to UC-1’s associate, who was posing as an Iranian general (the General), for use in a nuclear weapons program. Ebisawa then offered to supply the General with “plutonium” that would be even “better” and more “powerful” than uranium for this purpose. 

During their discussions regarding Ebisawa’s access to nuclear materials, Ebisawa also engaged with UC-1 concerning Ebisawa’s desire to purchase military-grade weapons. To that end, in May 2021, Ebisawa sent UC-1 a list of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, that Ebisawa wished to purchase from UC-1 on behalf of the leader of an ethnic insurgent group in Burma (CC-1).  Together with two other co-conspirators (CC-2 and CC-3), Ebisawa proposed to UC-1 that CC-1 sell uranium to the General, through Ebisawa, to fund CC-1’s weapons purchase. On a Feb.4, 2022 videoconference, CC-2 told UC-1 that CC-1 had available more than 2,000 kilograms of Thorium-232 and more than 100 kilograms of uranium in the compound U3O8 — referring to a compound of uranium commonly found in the uranium concentrate powder known as “yellowcake” — and that CC-1 could produce as much as five tons of nuclear materials in Burma. CC-2 also advised that CC-1 had provided samples of the uranium and thorium, which CC-2 was prepared to show to UC-1’s purported buyers. CC-2 noted that the samples should be packed “to contain . . . the radiation.” 

About one week later, Ebisawa, CC-2 and CC-3 participated in a series of meetings with UC-1 and CS-1 in Southeast Asia to discuss their ongoing weapons, narcotics, and nuclear materials transactions. During one of these meetings, CC-2 asked UC-1 to meet in CC-2’s hotel room.  Inside the room, CC-2 showed UC-1 two plastic containers, each holding a powdery yellow substance (the Nuclear Samples), which CC-2 described as “yellowcake.” CC-2 advised that one container held a sample of uranium in the compound U3O8, and the other container held Thorium-232. 

With the assistance of Thai authorities, the Nuclear Samples were seized and subsequently transferred to the custody of U.S. law enforcement authorities. A U.S. nuclear forensic laboratory examined the Nuclear Samples and determined that both samples contain detectable quantities of uranium, thorium and plutonium. In particular, the laboratory determined that the isotope composition of the plutonium found in the Nuclear Samples is weapons-grade, meaning that the plutonium, if produced in sufficient quantities, would be suitable for use in a nuclear weapon. 

A table containing the charges and maximum penalties for Ebisawa and Singhasiri is set forth below. The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by a judge.



Maximum Penalty

Count One: conspiracy to commit international trafficking of nuclear materials


20 years in prison

Count Two: international trafficking of nuclear materials


10 years in prison

Count Three: narcotics importation conspiracy

Ebisawa and Singhasiri

Life in prison; mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in prison

Count Four: conspiracy to possess firearms, including machineguns and destructive devices


Life in prison

Count Five: conspiracy to acquire, transfer, and possess surface-to-air missiles.


Life in prison; mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison

Count Six: narcotics importation conspiracy


Life in prison; mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison

Count Seven: conspiracy to possess firearms, including machine guns and destructive devices


Life in prison

Count Eight: money laundering


20 years in prison

The DEA Special Operations Division Bilateral Investigations Unit is investigating the case, with valuable assistance provided by the DEA Tokyo Country Office, DEA Bangkok Country Office, DEA Chiang Mai Resident Office, DEA Jakarta Country Office, DEA Copenhagen Country Office, DEA New York Field Office, DEA New Delhi Country Office, the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs and the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section, and law enforcement partners in Indonesia, Japan and the Kingdom of Thailand.

Trial Attorney Dmitry Slavin of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alexander Li, Kaylan E. Lasky and Kevin T. Sullivan for the Southern District of New York are prosecuting the case.

This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at

An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. 

Note: The above U.S. Justice Department photo shows Takeshi Ebisawa handling a rocket launcher at a meeting with undercover agents.

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