U.S.-accused industrial spy sues over detention amid extradition hearing

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A Japanese researcher on Friday demanded 42.9 million yen from the government for detaining him earlier this year while a court deliberated on a U.S. request for his extradition on charges of industrial espionage.

A lawyer representing Takashi Okamoto, 44, told the Tokyo District Court that the two-month detention of his client by Japanese authorities lacked justifiable grounds. The extradition request was turned down by the Tokyo High Court in March.

“The Justice Ministry knew that Okamoto could not be handed over to the U.S. under the bilateral extradition treaty because Japan had no law against industrial espionage,” the lawyer said.

Okamoto was charged by authorities in Ohio in May 2001 with stealing and destroying genetic materials on Alzheimer’s disease that he had developed at the Learner Research Institute of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in 1999.

He had allegedly smuggled the materials back to Japan around the time the charges were filed. Okamoto is believed to have had a Japanese researcher with whom he was acquainted briefly hide the materials. The acquaintance was subsequently charged as a coconspirator and plea-bargained to avoid prison.

The high court rejected the U.S. request that Okamoto be extradited to stand trial in Ohio, concluding there was no evidence to suggest his acts had benefited his next employer, the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (Riken) in Japan, as had been alleged by U.S. authorities.

Okamoto and his attorneys had argued at the high court, citing statements by specialists, that the DNA samples had no scientific value.

They claimed Okamoto stole or destroyed the samples in an attempt to obstruct the research of a subordinate Japanese researcher at the institute who refused to follow his instructions.

He was placed in custody by the Justice Ministry on Feb. 2, and detained for 57 days until the high court rejected the extradition request.

During a news conference following the court session, Okamoto’s attorney said the U.S. authorities had fabricated the industrial espionage charge without sufficiently examining facts in their eagerness to protect American economic interests.

He added that, in detaining his client, Japan was merely bowing to U.S. pressure.

“Although the Justice Ministry initially decided not to hand him over, its attitude changed when the demand was made from the U.S. government in a forceful manner,” he said.