Japanese police arrested three men and raided a North Korean vessel yesterday in connection with alleged drug smuggling from the cash-strapped communist state, officials and reports said.
The men are accused of helping smuggle several hundred kilograms of amphetamines from North Korea to Japan, Jiji Press and public broadcaster NHK said.
Tokyo police arrested Woo Si-yun, an unemployed 59-year-old South Korean living in Japan, and alleged Japanese gangster Katsuhiko Miyata, 58, the news organizations said.
Investigators also searched the North Korean freighter Turubong 1 that arrived yesterday in Tottori Prefecture in western Japan yesterday, because they believed the ship was used to smuggle amphetamines into Japan from North Korea in 2002, a Japan Coast Guard official said.
Woo is believed to be the owner of a mobile phone recovered from a North Korean spy ship that sank in the East China Sea in 2001 after an exchange of fire with the Japan Coast Guard, Kyodo News said.
"We think ... that [the South Korean] had been in charge of contacting and coordinating with North Korea,"the coast guard official said on condition of anonymity.
Kyodo news agency said all three have denied the allegations.
The Coast Guard said in a statement that the Turubong 1 was used to carry hundreds of kilograms of amphetamines from North Korea to waters off the Japanese coast, where they were then dropped into the water.
Another boat retrieved the amphetamines from the water and brought them into Japan in October 2002, the Coast Guard said.
Public broadcaster NHK said the Turubong 1 was a 300-tonne vessel that had been entering a port in western Japan about once a month since 2000, carrying seafood such as crabs from North Korea and returning with used bicycles and electronic goods.
The arrests and the search came after Japan's ruling party submitted to parliament last month a bill requiring the government to slap economic sanctions on North Korea if it fails to come clean on the fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped decades ago.
The US and its allies alleged that impoverished North Korea has engaged in drug and weapons smuggling to fund the regime.