Pro-North Koreans lash out at Japan court 'discrimination'

TOKYO - Angry officials at North Korea's de facto embassy in Tokyo lashed out Tuesday at what they said was Japanese judicial discrimination, after a court ruled it must sell the building to developers.

Portraits of the founding father of North Korea, Kim Il-Sung and his successor-son, Kim Jong-Il, loomed over journalists at a rare press conference inside the building in central Tokyo that is officially the headquarters of pro-Pyongyang Koreans who live in Japan.

"The decision by the district court is an act of violence, exposing ethnic discrimination held by the judicial sector against Koreans in Japan," the organisation -- Chongryon -- said in a statement.

"It is an unbearable act of animosity against our country."

Chongryon was ordered to sell it 2,390-square-metre (25,725-square-feet) plot and 10-storey building to repay loans dating back to the collapse of Japan's bubble economy at the end of the 1990s.

A series of auctions were organised, with prospective buyers submitting closed offers for the building, which appears to have much of the same furnishing and decoration as it did when it was built in 1986.

But on Monday Tokyo District Court said a huge bid from an obscure Mongolia-registered company was not permitted because it appeared to have links to Pyongyang.

Japanese law forbids participation of the seller in the bidding of a forced auction.

The court said real estate firm Marunaka Holdings' runner-up offer of 2.21 billion yen ($22 million) -- nearly 3 billion yen lower than the Mongolian bid -- was legitimate, meaning it should be the owner of the prime Tokyo land.

Chongryon said it had appealed the ruling to a higher court.

Nam Sung-U, vice-chairman of the organisation, which acts as an embassy in the absence of diplomatic ties between the two countries, said he had received no instructions from Pyongyang, but did not doubt they would be annoyed.

"The decision to sell the property in such an unprecedented way would not only affect the activities of Chongryon, a rights group for the Koreans in Japan, but also leave serious resentment for the Japan-Korea relationship," he said.

There are around 500,000 ethnic Koreans in Japan, mostly descendants of migrants and forced workers from Tokyo's sometimes brutal 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula.

Many are effectively stateless, having forfeited their Japanese nationality with Japan's 1945 defeat. They remain without the vote in their host country.