Pubdate: Friday, 18 February 2000
Source: Japan Times, The (Japan)
Copyright: © 2000 Japan Times
Pyonyang blamed for drugs
North Korea targeting Japan market, NPA claims
More than 40 percent of the illegal stimulants seized by police across Japan in 1999 either came from North Korea or are linked to the Stalinist state, the National Police Agency said Thursday.
The NPA believes the figures prove that North Korea is becoming deeply involved in the lucrative business of selling stimulants in Japan - an issue that could develop into another serious headache for Tokyo-Pyongyang ties.
Police confiscated a record 1,970 kg of amphetamines last year, more than in the previous five years combined.
The agency said that 863.8 kg, or 43.7 percent of the total, is believed to have some connection with North Korea.
The agency said it has confirmed that 664 kg of drugs were smuggled into Japan from North Korea, but it added that there is no evidence the drugs were made there.
The haul from North Korea includes some 100 kg of amphetamines found in a Chinese ship docked at a Sea of Japan coast port in Tottori Prefecture in April 1999, and 564 kg seized on a beach in Kagoshima Prefecture in October that year.
Police could not confirm whether about 200 kg of drugs confiscated in other locations last year came from North Korea, but tests at the National Research Institute of Police Science showed the drugs were of the same chemical composition as the ones confiscated in Kagoshima.
There were other similarities, such as the way the drugs were packaged, leading to suspicions that the 200 kg were from the same source as the Kagoshima haul.
Behind the rise in seizures is a sharp increase in smuggling attempts, the NPA said.
Only 60 kg of drugs believed to have originated in North Korea were confiscated in Japan in 1997.
But testimony by suspects arrested in a 1998 case, in which about 170 kg of stimulants were dumped in the sea off Kochi Prefecture to avoid confiscation, gave police information about the North Korean drug-smuggling route, the NPA said.
The agency said it has instructed all prefectural police forces to be more alert to drug smuggling from North Korea, the agency said.
Earlier this month, police seized 250 kg of amphetamines at a port in Shimane Prefecture. Police suspect the drug was transferred to a Japanese fishing boat from another vessel in North Korean territorial waters.
The growing problem of North Korean stimulants smuggled into Japan could pose another serious hurdle before Tokyo-Pyongyang ties can improve.
The two countries, which have no diplomatic relations, have been holding preliminary talks aimed at resuming official negotiations for normalizing ties. The talks have been stalled since 1992.
The talks have made slow progress, however, as North Korea has continued to flatly deny that its agents kidnapped about a dozen Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s and took them to North Korea.
A 1999 report by the U.S. State Department suggested that North Korea may be involved in drug production and smuggling as a national project to gain foreign currencies to support its ailing economy.
The report estimates that North Korea produces 30 to 40 tons of opium a year, adding that it is rapidly expanding its capacity for stimulant output.
Citing past arrests of North Korean diplomats and employees of state-run firms over drug smuggling in China and Europe, the report concludes that the North Korean state itself appears to be involved in the entire operation.
According to the NPA, South Korea was the primary source of stimulants in Japan in the 1970s, Taiwan in the 1980s and China in the 1990s.
An NPA official said Japan does not have evidence of drug production in North Korea.
February 18, 2000