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Press Release

U.S. Attorney Announces Nuclear Materials Trafficking Charges Against Japanese Yakuza Leader

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York
Takeshi Ebisawa of Japan, Leader Within the Yakuza Transnational Organized Crime Syndicate, Allegedly Trafficked Nuclear Materials, Including Uranium and Weapons-Grade Plutonium

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York; Matthew G. Olsen, the Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s National Security Division; and Anne Milgram, the Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), announced the issuance today of a Superseding Indictment charging TAKESHI EBISAWA with conspiring with a network of associates to traffic nuclear materials from Burma to other countries.  In the course of this conspiracy, EBISAWA and his confederates showed samples of nuclear materials in Thailand to a DEA undercover agent (“UC-1”), who was posing as a narcotics and weapons trafficker.  With the assistance of Thai authorities, the nuclear samples were seized and subsequently transferred to the custody of U.S. law enforcement.  A U.S. nuclear forensic laboratory later analyzed the samples and confirmed that the samples contain uranium and weapons-grade plutonium.    

EBISAWA and co-defendant SOMPHOP SINGHASIRI were previously charged in April 2022 with international narcotics trafficking and firearms offenses, and both have been ordered detained.  EBISAWA and SINGHASIRI will be arraigned on the Superseding Indictment before U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon tomorrow at noon.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “It is impossible to overstate the seriousness of the conduct alleged in today’s Indictment.  As alleged, Takeshi Ebisawa brazenly trafficked material containing uranium and weapons-grade plutonium from Burma to other countries.  He allegedly did so while believing that the material was going to be used in the development of a nuclear weapons program, and the weapons-grade plutonium he trafficked, if produced in sufficient quantities, could have been used for that purpose.  Even as he allegedly attempted to sell nuclear materials, Ebisawa also negotiated for the purchase of deadly weapons, including surface-to-air missiles.   I want to thank the career prosecutors of my Office and our law enforcement partners for their unwavering commitment to protecting our national security by ensuring that the defendant will now face justice in an American court.”      

Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen said: “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.  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.”

DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said: “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.  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 Superseding Indictment, which was unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:[1]

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.  Examples of the photographs sent by EBISAWA are shown below:

Photo sent by the defendant depicting rock substances with Geiger counters measuring radiation
Photo sent by the defendant depicting rock substances with Geiger counters measuring radiation

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 February 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.  UC-1 photographed and video-recorded the Nuclear Samples, images of which are shown below:

Photo of the Nuclear Samples
Photo of the Nuclear Samples

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 minimum and maximum penalties for EBISAWA, 60, of Japan, and SINGHASIRI, 61, of Thailand, is set forth below.  The minimum and 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 Judge McMahon.

Mr. Williams praised the outstanding efforts of the DEA’s Special Operations Division Bilateral Investigations Unit.  Mr. Williams also thanked 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 Counterterrorism Section of the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, the Office of International Affairs of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, and our law enforcement partners in Indonesia, Japan, and the Kingdom of Thailand for their assistance.

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

The case is being handled by the Office’s National Security and International Narcotics Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alexander Li, Kaylan E. Lasky, and Kevin T. Sullivan are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance from Trial Attorney Dmitriy Slavin of the Counterterrorism Section.

The charges contained in the Superseding Indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.




Count One: Conspiracy to commit international trafficking of nuclear materials


Maximum of 10 years in prison

Count Two: International trafficking of nuclear materials


Maximum of 20 years in prison

Count Three: Narcotics importation conspiracy


Mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison; maximum of life in prison

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


Maximum of life in prison

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


Mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison; maximum of life in prison

Count Six: Narcotics importation conspiracy


Mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison; maximum of life in prison

Count Seven: Conspiracy to possess firearms, including machineguns and destructive devices


Maximum of life in prison

Count Eight: Money laundering


Maximum of 20 years in prison

[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Superseding Indictment and the description of the Superseding Indictment set forth herein constitute only allegations and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.


Nicholas Biase, Lauren Scarff
(212) 637-2600

Updated February 21, 2024

National Security
Press Release Number: 24-061