Police on Tuesday arrested one of the sons of the head of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) and two others on suspicion of illegally importing matsutake mushrooms from North Korea.
Ho Jong Do, 50, the second son of Ho Jong Man, chairman of the pro-Pyongyang organisation, was arrested along with Kim Yong Jak, 70, president of Chosen Tokusanbutsu Hanbai, a trading company in Taito Ward, Tokyo, that is under Chongryon's wing, and Kazuhide Yamanaka, 63, a former employee of the trading company.
The arrests, made on suspicion of violating the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law, were carried out by the Kyoto, Kanagawa, Shimane and Yamaguchi prefectural police.
The Kyoto prefectural police confiscated documents related to the trading of the mushrooms at Ho's home in Tokyo's Adachi Ward and other places. One of the documents indicated that North Korea was involved in the illegal mushroom imports.The police will conduct further investigations into the case in the belief that Pyongyang gave instructions on the illegal imports of matsutake mushrooms to earn foreign currency.
According to the police, it is the first time a relative of Ho Jong Man has been arrested. They believe Ho Jong Do, also an employee of Chosen Tokusanbutsu Hanbai, was deeply involved in the management of the company.
The three persons arrested deny the allegation. "I'll never co-operate [with the investigation] because this is an unjustified arrest," Ho was quoted by the police as saying.
According to the police, Ho, Kim and Yamanaka conspired with Lee Dong Cheol, president of Toho, a trading company in Taito Ward, Tokyo, and a Toho employee to illegally import matsutake mushrooms from North Korea.
They are suspected of importing about 1.8 tons of North Korean matsutake mushrooms - with a customs-declared value of about ¥4.5 million - through Kansai Airport via China on Sept. 27, 2010, without approval from the economy, trade and industry minister.
The government has banned the import of all goods from North Korea since October 2006 as part of its sanctions related to Pyongyang's nuclear tests. Lee, 61, and the Toho employee have already been indicted in the case.
According to investigative sources, the Kyoto and other prefectural police searched Ho's home, Chosen Tokusanbutsu Hanbai and other 11 locations in May last year. At that time, the police confiscated documents, including the one related to the trading of matsutake mushrooms, which is believed to have been signed by Chosen Tokusanbutsu Hanbai and a North Korean company. The document carries the name of the North Korean company as well as the Workers' Party of Korea. It also carries the words, "a wish of Gen. Kim Jong Il."
The Kyoto prefectural police believe the mushrooms were first shipped from North Korea to China where they were falsely labelled as grown in China before being imported to Japan, ostensibly by Toho.
According to a corporate registry book and a credit research company, Chosen Tokusanbutsu Hanbai was established in 1969. Before the imports of North Korean products were banned, the company was the largest importer of North Korean matsutake mushrooms to Japan.
"There is a group trying to destroy the Japan-North Korean relationship," Ho Jong Man told reporters in front of his house in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, after his son's arrest on Tuesday morning. "It [the case] is groundless and has been made up out of whole cloth."
The government called on North Korea not to link the case with that of the reinvestigation of Japanese abductees. "Our country is ruled by law and it is natural to conduct an investigation based on law and evidence," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference on Tuesday. "There is no change in our position to strongly demand North Korea promptly carry out an investigation [on Japanese abductees] based on the Japan-North Korea agreement, and quickly and honestly report its outcome to Japan."