Japanese Police Raid De Facto North Korean Embassy Suspected Of Illegally Selling Secondhand English-Language Textbooks

Ryan Pickrell | China/Asia Pacific Reporter

Authorities in Tokyo raided the municipal headquarters of an organization with deep ties to North Korea Thursday, reportedly on suspicion of illegally trading secondhand English-language textbooks.

Police arrested former director of Chongryon Chon Ju Hyok Wednesday for allegedly buying and selling secondhand English-language textbooks, along with a number of other materials, without a license, The Wall Street Journal reports. Between January and June last year, Chon reportedly generated thousands of dollars selling used study materials, and over the five-year period between 2012 and 2017, Chon is believed to have secured $274,000 in profits in online auctions and markets, according to Japan’s Kyodo News Agency.

Chon admitted to selling materials but said that he wasn’t aware he needed a license.

The General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, more commonly known as Chongryon, represents the pro-North Korean members of Japan’s ethnic Korean minority. As North Korea has no formal diplomatic ties to Japan, Chongryon has served as the de facto North Korean embassy.

Records reportedly show that Chon sent money to a senior official at the Tokyo municipal headquarters for Chongryon, which has been a reliable source of hard cash for the North Korean regime in the past.

Chongryon issued a statement claiming that the money it received was for a newspaper subscription. The organization denied any involvement in illegal activity.

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All trade with North Korea is strictly prohibited in Japan, yet pro-North Korean members often try to skirt sanctions to send money, as well as supplies to the rogue regime.

Three Japanese businessmen were arrested last December for attempting to export 1,500 boxes of food and other items worth an estimated $63,500 to North Korea by way of a company in Singapore. During the investigation, police paid a visit to Chongryon, a point of controversy in a country with particularly tense relations with North Korea.

In February 2017, an ethnic Korean businessman in Japan was detained on suspicion of exporting food and clothing to North Korea, and in May 2015, the son of the head of Chongryon was arrested for an illegal matsutake mushroom trade deal with North Korea, according to The Japan Times.

Chongryon, operational since 1955, manages banks, schools, and newspapers, some of which are propaganda outlets, for the Korean minority in Japan. Once a source of funding for the North Korean regime, this organization has fallen on hard times financially in recent years.

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