South Korean, Japanese aiding DPRK smuggling

From the Japanese Asahi:

A South Korean man with alleged connections to a sunken North Korean spy ship is suspected of masterminding the smuggling of nearly 1 ton of illegal drugs from North Korea, police said over the weekend.

The man, Woo Si Yun, 59, was arrested Friday and sent to prosecutors Sunday, along with gangster Katsuhiko Miyata, 58. Police also raided a North Korean freighter at Sakaiminato port in Tottori Prefecture.

Police suspect the two men smuggled hundreds of kilograms of stimulants in October 2002 by having plastic bags filled with drugs tossed from the freighter into waters off Matsue, Shimane Prefecture. The two prefectures are on the Sea of Japan coast, across from the Korean Peninsula.

The 54-year-old captain of a Japanese fishing vessel that allegedly picked up floating bundles of drugs was also sent to prosecutors Sunday on suspected violations of the Stimulant Drug Control Law.

Police suspect Woo carried out similar operations on two other occasions in 2002, for a total of almost 1 ton in smuggled drugs. The drugs, worth 60 billion yen on the streets, were most likely sold to gangs.

The total volume is 2.3 times more than the total stimulants confiscated in Japan in all of 2002. It amounts to about 33 million individual doses.

Woo’s bank accounts showed payments from known gangs dating back to 1998.

Similar smuggling attempts from North Korea, involving large quantities of drugs tossed into the sea to be picked up by accomplices, have grown since the 1990s, police said.

Friday’s arrests also confirmed a North Korean spy ship that sank off Kagoshima Prefecture on Dec. 22, 2001, after a gunbattle with the Japan Coast Guard, had ties to drug smugglers, police added.

A cellphone recovered from the salvaged ship had records of calls to Miyata’s gang office in Tokyo’s Itabashi Ward, they said. The prepaid phone also showed Woo was one of at least 10 contacts the crew had in Japan. Police suspect Miyata arranged the smuggling and sale of the drugs to underworld groups in Japan.

Before it sank, the ship’s crew were seen tossing sacks and drums overboard that police suspect contained drugs.

The spy ship is also believed to be the one used in a separate smuggling case in 1998, according to the coast guard.

Woo is believed to have traveled to Beijing and elsewhere about 40 times between 2001 and 2004.

Police suspect he may have entered North Korea via Beijing to arrange drug deals.

Besides three allegedly successful smuggling operations in 2002, Woo is also suspected of playing a role in another botched attempt. About 240 kilograms of stimulant drugs were found floating off Tottori Prefecture from November to December 2002.

Smugglers apparently failed to pick up the floating packs.

The same North Korean freighter Woo used reportedly was sighted in waters off Matsue around the same time, police said.

According to joint investigations by Tokyo and Tottori police, Woo received several bank transfers from gangs, thought to be payments for drugs.

In one case, a Fukuoka Prefecture-based gang paid Woo 8 million yen in December 1998, while a Saitama Prefecture group paid 10 million yen in August 2003, police said.

Woo was convicted of smuggling stolen cars in 2004 and served a prison term. He was recently released.(IHT/Asahi: May 15,2006)


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