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Last defendant in Japan’s biggest gold-smuggling case evades prison but gets ¥1.5 million fine

Last defendant in Japan’s biggest gold-smuggling case evades prison but gets ¥1.5 million fine

SAGA – The Saga District Court on Monday sentenced the last of nine men charged with smuggling 206 kg of gold into Japan in May, wrapping up the nation’s largest gold seizure to date.

The court handed a 30-month prison term, suspended for five years, and a ¥1.5 million ($14,000) fine to Chinese national Lin Yashan, 43, for importing gold bars worth an estimated ¥930 million into Karatsu, Saga Prefecture, last year without permission.

The court also ordered the gold confiscated. The sentence was in line with prosecutors’ demands.

Of the other eight men convicted in the case, Takesuke Yamazaki, 67, considered the ringleader on the Japanese side, was given two years in prison and a ¥1.5 million fine.

According to Monday’s ruling, Lin and the others evaded taxes worth some ¥74.4 million by unloading the gold at Karatsu port after conducting a ship-to-ship transfer on the East China Sea with a vessel of unknown nationality.

Presiding Judge Hiroyuki Yoshii said Lin “was involved in the crucial part of the smuggling” because he took the gold from China, but said he was not the key plotter.

Defense lawyers plan to appeal.

Japan levies an 8 percent consumption tax on imported gold, but smugglers try to evade it by selling smuggled gold to shops at a price that includes the tax.

Smuggling cases have risen sharply since the consumption tax rose to 8 percent from 5 percent in April 2014. The government plans to complete the doubling of the levy to 10 percent in October 2019.

Until June 2014, the number of gold-smuggling cases had averaged less than 10 per year, but the figure for the one-year period through June 2015 shot up to 177 before jumping further to 294 a year later.

In the year through June 2017, cases handled by customs authorities jumped to a record of 467 involving around ¥870 million in tax dodging, also the largest sum on record, according to government data.

In response, customs officials are stepping up their hunt for gold smugglers. In November, the Finance Ministry decided to impose higher fines and beef up customs inspections with the use of metal detectors.