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Suspect in ’81 Murder Held on Japanese Gun Charge

Times Staff Writer

A Japanese national described by authorities as the lone uncharged suspect in a Los Angeles murder that has captivated the Japanese press and public has been arrested in Tokyo on a gun-smuggling charge, a Los Angeles County prosecutor said Monday.

Yoshikuni Okubo, 36, who was arrested Oct. 1, was a longtime business associate of murder suspect Kazuyoshi Miura, 40, whose wife was fatally shot in the head during a visit to Los Angeles in November, 1981. Kazumi Miura never regained consciousness and died in Japan the following year.

Referred to in the popular Japanese press as the “Los Angeles Suspicions” case, the killing was at first believed to be the random work of a robber or robbers. But authorities in Tokyo and Los Angeles in the mid-1980s began building a case against Miura that culminated last May in the filing of murder and conspiracy charges in Los Angeles.

Miura had already been convicted in Japan of engineering an earlier attempt on his wife’s life in Los Angeles and is now serving a six-year prison sentence. Japanese periodicals have reported that Miura collected as much as $600,000 in insurance money after his wife died.

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Okubo, who had attended USC, began working for Miura in 1979 or 1980 as a buyer of American antiques, which Miura exported to Japan, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Louis K. Ito, chief American prosecutor in the case.

About five months after Kazumi Miura was shot, Okubo abruptly left the United States, where he had resident-alien status, and returned with his family to Japan, Ito said.

During the last two years, Ito said, American and Japanese investigators have developed “various circumstantial evidence that points to (Okubo’s) involvement in the shooting.” He refused to elaborate.

However, Ito said that evidence apparently was not strong enough to prompt Japanese authorities to arrest Okubo for murder. Instead, Okubo is accused of smuggling a .22-caliber rifle and about 100 rounds of ammunition into Japan when he returned to the country in April, 1982.

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Japanese investigators were tipped to Okubo’s allegedly smuggled gun a year ago and seized the weapon in September, 1987, Ito said. Ito, who has traveled to Japan twice to consult on the case, said Okubo’s arrest was delayed to allow authorities further time to investigate his alleged connection to the Miura slaying.

The gun taken from Okubo was not the weapon used to shoot Kazumi Miura, Ito said. Authorities have never publicly identified the type of gun that fired the fatal shot.

Ito said prosecutors here and in Japan believe that Okubo, knowing that his rifle was not the murder weapon, took it back to Japan with the intent of using it to establish an alibi if investigators ever attempted to link him to the Miura slaying.

Generally, private citizens are not permitted to own either handguns or rifles in Japan. The maximum penalty for gun smuggling is five years in prison, Ito added.

Under Japanese law, authorities in Tokyo can hold Okubo until next Saturday without formally filing charges. In the meantime, Ito said, they are questioning him about the Miura killing.

“I’m hopeful that . . . they’re going to get some statement from him,” Ito said. He described Okubo as the only suspect in the Miura killing who has not been charged.

The name of Okubo’s Japanese attorney could not be immediately determined.

Besides the slaying of his wife, Miura is also a suspect in the 1979 disappearance of his one-time mistress, Chizuko Shiraishi, 34. Shiraishi’s then-unidentified body was discovered in a vacant lot in the Lakeview Terrace section of Los Angeles in 1981. However, it was not until 1984, after Miura had become a suspect in his wife’s killing, that authorities used dental records flown in from Japan to positively identify Shiraishi’s body. No charges have been filed in connection with her death.

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