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Alleged yakuza leader charged with attempting to sell nuclear materials from Myanmar

By Holmes Lybrand, CNN

(CNN) — An alleged leader of a Japanese organized crime syndicate has been charged with attempting to sell weapons-grade nuclear materials from the leader of an ethnic insurgent group in Myanmar, according to a new indictment from the US Justice Department.

Takeshi Ebisawa, an alleged leader in the yakuza who was arrested in 2022 on charges over drug and weapons trafficking conspiracies, faces several new charges for allegedly attempting to sell nuclear materials to someone he believed was an Iranian general, in exchange for a significant weapons cache.

According to the new indictment, Ebisawa in 2020 told a confidential source for the Drug Enforcement Administration and an undercover DEA agent that he had access to nuclear materials he wanted to sell, asking if they had a buyer for uranium.

Ebisawa sent pictures “depicting rocky substances with Geiger counters measuring radiation,” according to the indictment, as well as pages of what Ebisawa said were lab analyses “indicating the presence of the radioactive elements thorium and uranium.”

The undercover agent allegedly agreed to help Ebisawa sell the material to another confidential source who was posing as an Iranian general.

The agent asked Ebisawa if the material was usable for nuclear weapons, saying that Iran needed “it for nuclear weapons.”

“I think so and I hope so,” Ebisawa said, according to the indictment.

In 2021, Ebisawa told the undercover agent that an unnamed leader of an insurgent group in Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, could sell nuclear material, including uranium, through Ebisawa to the fictitious Iranian general to fund a large weapons purchase, the indictment says.

In a recorded video call, brokers for the leader of the insurgent group claimed the leader had thousands of kilograms of nuclear material and “could produce as much as five tons of nuclear materials in” the territory the leader controlled.

During the call, the DEA undercover agent asked about exchanging uranium for weapons from Iran, which the brokers and the leader agreed with.

In 2022, Thai law enforcement recovered nuclear samples previously shown to the agent by the brokers and transferred them to US authorities, the indictment says.

A nuclear forensic lab that examined the samples found that they contained uranium, thorium and plutonium and that the plutonium was weapons-grade.

“If produced in sufficient quantities,” the indictment said of the plutonium found in the samples, “[it] would be suitable for use in a nuclear weapon.”

CNN has reached out to Ebisawa’s attorney for comment.

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